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First major J.D. Fergusson exhibition in forty years opens at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
J. D. Fergusson (1874 – 1961), Hortensia, 1907. Oil on canvas 43 x 38. The University of Aberdeen - bequeathed by Eric Linklater, 1976.

EDINBURGH.- The first major retrospective in forty years to showcase the work of J.D. Fergusson opened 7 December. Bringing together well over 100 paintings, sculptures and works on paper by the Scottish Colourist, the exhibition celebrates the importance of one of the UK’s greatest twentieth-century artists. The outstanding features of the exhibition include examples from the series of extraordinary nudes Fergusson painted in Paris in 1910, two series of landscapes reunited for the first time in almost 100 years, and a significant display of his remarkable sculpture.

This exhibition, featuring works from public and private collections from throughout the UK, is the third and final in a series devoted to the Scottish Colourists, following the hugely successful shows focussing on F.C.B. Cadell and S.J. Peploe.

J.D. Fergusson (1874 – 1961) has the most international reputation and was the longest-lived of the group, which also included G. L. Hunter. His career spanned the birth of modern art in Paris before World War One, to re-vitalising the arts scene in Glasgow after the outbreak of World War Two. Fergusson is the only Colourist to have made sculpture and to have been involved with the performing arts, through his partner the dance pioneer Margaret Morris.

An artist of passion and sensuality, Fergusson is best known for his depictions of women. Paintings of his partners are amongst his most celebrated; these include The White Dress: Portrait of Jean, 1904, a bravura life-size image of Edwardian femininity featuring Jean Maconochie, and Le Manteau Chinois, 1909, a dazzling depiction of female self-possession showing the American artist Anne Estelle Rice. Morris and her pupils provided Fergusson with an endless source of inspiration, resulting in works such as the idyllic Summer 1914, of 1934.

Born in Leith near Edinburgh, Fergusson was essentially self-taught. By 1902 he had his first studio in the Scottish capital and became a familiar figure sketching in the city, as can be seen in Bank of Scotland from Princes Street Gardens, early 1900s. In about 1900, Fergusson met Peploe and from 1904 they spent the summers painting together in France, resulting in works such as Grey Day, Paris-Plage, 1906.

Fergusson’s first solo exhibition was held in London in 1905. He moved to Paris in 1907 where, more than any of his Scottish contemporaries, he assimilated and developed the latest advances in French painting by artists such as Henri Matisse and André Derain. Fergusson’s work changed dramatically, as can be seen in the boldly coloured and designed Hortensia, 1907, and the striking and complex La Bête violette, 1910. A daring series of nudes, including Rhythm and Les Eus, of between 1910 and 1913, are amongst the most original paintings in British art of the period.

In 1913, Fergusson met Morris in Paris; they began a personal and professional relationship which lasted until his death. On the outbreak of World War One, Fergusson moved to London, where Morris was based. Through the Margaret Morris Club, which she ran alongside her dance school and theatre in Chelsea, Fergusson immediately came into contact with the London avant-garde.

Few works by Fergusson survive from the war years. In July 1918, he was granted permission by the Admiralty ‘to go to Portsmouth to gather impressions for painting a picture’. He spent several weeks there sketching and the resultant series of paintings, including Damaged Destroyer and Portsmouth Docks, show Fergusson experimenting with Vorticism. As a result, they are as distinct in style as they are in subject matter within his oeuvre. These works are being seen together in this exhibition for the first time. In addition, an important series of landscapes which Fergusson painted following a motoring tour of the Scottish Highlands in 1922, including A Puff of Smoke near Milngavie, arel being shown together for the first time in 90 years.

Fergusson made his first sculpture in Paris in 1908; his last is thought to date from c.1955. This important aspect of his oeuvre is little-known. A special feature of the exhibition is a display of fifteen sculptures, made in wood, stone, bronze and plaster, including the seminal Eastre of 1924, enigmatic Standing Female Nude and voluptuous Dancing Nude: Effulgence of c.1920.

The 1920s was perhaps the most successful decade of Fergusson’s career. The end of the war meant he and Morris could once again visit France, as symbolised by the joyous Christmas Time in the South of France of 1922, and later in Bathers, Noon, 1937. Fergusson had numerous solo exhibitions, including in Edinburgh, Glasgow, New York and Chicago, and his work was included in important group shows in London and Paris.

In 1929 Fergusson moved back to Paris, but World War Two forced him to leave France for a second time. In 1939, he and Morris settled in Glasgow, which he believed was the most Celtic city in Scotland. ‘Fergus’ and ‘Meg’, as the couple were affectionately known, played a vital part in the renaissance of the arts in the city, including as founder members of the exhibiting and discussions groups the New Art Club in 1940 and the New Scottish Group in 1942. Fergusson developed a distinct late style, which reached its climax in the majestic Danu, Mother of the Gods, 1952. Continued visits to France throughout the 1950s resulted in pictures of beauty and poise, such as Wisteria, Villa Florentine, Golfe-Juan of 1957.

Fergusson died in Glasgow on 30 January 1961. Morris made a huge effort to secure his reputation, establishing, in 1963, the J. D. Fergusson Art Foundation, to look after the works and archival material which she inherited. These were presented to Perth & Kinross Council, who opened The Fergusson Gallery in 1992.

Director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Simon Groom, commented: ‘This is the first major retrospective exhibition of the work of J. D. Fergusson to be mounted by the National Galleries of Scotland. We are delighted that, just over fifty years since his death, the international significance of this major Scottish artist is being recognised in a captivating finale to the highly popular Scottish Colourist Series.’

The exhibition is a partnership between the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh and The Fergusson Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council. Provost of Perth and Kinross Liz Grant, said: ‘J. D. Fergusson’s links with Perthshire are well-known and we are proud to care for an extensive collection of his art and archival material that reflects the breadth of his artistic expression and his fascinating life. I am delighted that we are collaborating with the National Galleries of Scotland on this important retrospective of Fergusson’s work.’.

A lavishly-illustrated publication based on new research accompanies the exhibition.

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