CHICHESTER.- Pallant House Gallery
presents the first major retrospective in almost 40 years of the work of J. D. Fergusson (1874-1961), one of the four artists known as the Scottish Colourists. Bringing together over 70 paintings and sculptures from major public and private collections from across the UK, including two exceptional yet little known landscapes series, of Portsmouth Docks from 1918 and of the Scottish Highlands from 1922, the exhibition celebrates the importance of one of the UKs greatest 20th-century artists.
With a career encompassing the birth of modern art in Paris, to re-vitalising the arts scene in Glasgow after the outbreak of World War Two, Fergusson is the most international and diverse of the Scottish Colourists. The only Colourist to make sculpture, he was also involved with the performing arts through his partner the dance pioneer Margaret Morris. An artist of passion and sensuality, he is best known for his depictions of women. The exhibition includes some of his most admired paintings such as The White Dress: Portrait of Jean, 1904, a life-size image of Edwardian femininity featuring Fergussons partner Jean Maconochie, and The Spanish Shawl: Anne Estelle Rice (c. 1909), a striking depiction of the American artist.
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, represented in the exhibition via Bank of Scotland from Princes Street Gardens from the early 1900s. In about 1900, Fergusson met fellow Colourist S. J. Peploe and from 1904 they spent the summers painting together in France, resulting in works such as Royan, 1910, also included in the show.
Following his first solo exhibition in London in 1905, Fergusson 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. Fergussons work changed dramatically, represented in the exhibition in the boldly coloured and designed Hortensia, 1907, and The Blue Hat, Closerie des Lilas, 1909. A daring series of nudes created between 1910 and 1913 are amongst the most original paintings in British art of the period.
In 1913, Fergusson met the dance pioneer Margaret Morris in Paris and 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 ran the Margaret Morris Club alongside her dance school and theatre in Chelsea. Fergusson immediately came into contact with the London avant-garde and Morris and her pupils provided Fergusson with an endless source of inspiration, represented in works such as the idyllic Bathers: Antibes (1937).
Few works by Fergusson survive from the war years, but 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 Blue Submarine: Portsmouth Harbour, show Fergusson experimenting with Vorticism. In addition, an important series of landscapes which Fergusson painted following a motoring tour of the Scottish Highlands in 1922, including Storm Around Ben Ledi, will be shown together for the first time in 90 years.
Fergusson made his first sculpture in Paris in 1908, a little-known aspect of his oeuvre, which he is thought to have continued throughout the next 50 years. A special feature of the exhibition is a display of sculptures, made in wood, stone and bronze, 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 Fergussons career. The end of the war enabled him to visit France once again, his joy at which is evident in works such as Christmas Time in the South of France of 1922. He also had numerous solo exhibitions, 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 discussion 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 posthumous 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.