Colour, Rhythm and Form: J.D. Fergusson and France
Hunterian Art Gallery
University of Glasgow 82 Hillhead Street Glasgow
0141 330 5431
10 September 2011 - 8 January 2012
J.D. Fergusson, La Déesse de la Rivière, c. 1928. © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council. Photo © Collection Centre Pompidou, Dist. RMN / Jean-Claude Planchet.
In our fast-paced, post-permissive society it is hard to imagine the impact made upon a somewhat starchy pre-war Scottish art scene when the then 65-year-old J.D (John Duncan) Fergusson arrived in Glasgow with his ‘wife’, the celebrated dancer, Margaret Morris, to take up residence.
Fergus, as he was known to his friends, and Margaret – whom he never married – must have cut a dash as they went about their business in the city. To say they were Bohemian is putting it mildly.
Leith-born Fergusson, by then the last surviving Scottish Colourist, had spent a great deal of his working life in France, which allowed him a personal and artistic freedom he could never have enjoyed so openly in his native Scotland.
Largely self-trained, Fergusson first visited Paris in the 1890s, after dropping his medical studies in favour of art. He forged his whole approach to the creative process in Paris in the early days of the 20th century, where he counted Picasso, Matisse and Derain among his acquaintances in the cafes and bars of Montparnasse. He was also friends with significant writers such as John Middleton Murray and Katherine Mansfield.
By nature a rebellious independent artist, he was committed to a modern, non-academic art world.
When he arrived in Glasgow at the outbreak of the second world war, he and Margaret made it their business to create a salon-like atmosphere for artists, poets, writers, dancers and musicians to meet and exchange ideas.
But it was France that forged Fergusson as an artist and a person and to mark the 50th anniversary of his death in 1961, The Hunterian Art Gallery in Glasgow is mounting a major exhibition devoted to this symbiotic relationship.
Charting his artistic development as both painter and sculptor, for this exhibition The Hunterian has borrowed three Scottish Colourist paintings, from the collection of the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
The three works, La Déssee de la Rivière by Fergusson, La Forêt by S.J. Peploe and Lac Lomond by G.L. Hunter, are on loan from the French Government and are on display together in the UK for the first time.
Although the term Scottish Colourist was not used until much later, Fergusson, Peploe and Hunter first exhibited together in Paris as Les Peintres de l’Écosse Moderne (Modern Scottish Painters) in 1924, and later as Les Peintres Ecossais (The Scottish Painters) in 1931.
The first exhibition in the French capital came about after Fergusson’s friend, the writer, John Ressich, wrote to this newspaper in December 1923 calling for more opportunities for the public to see modern Scottish painting, for public galleries to buy and show their work and for more recognition of modern Scottish painters.
Glasgow art dealer Alex Reid and Parisian gallerist Ettienne Bignou were developing a business relationship around this time and prompted by Ressich’s comments, they staged Les Peintres de l’Écosse Moderne at the Galerie Barbazanges in June 1924.
On the opening day of the 1931 exhibition, the French Government bought these three paintings for the French National Art Collection.
The exhibition is organised into four sections covering Fergusson’s time in Paris, in the South of France, the breakthrough Colourist exhibitions in Paris and finally his return to Glasgow. It consists of around 50 paintings, watercolours, drawings and sculptures alongside a range of archive material.
The Hunterian’s significant Fergusson collection is at the heart of the show with the vast, sexy oil painting, Les Eus, and Anne Estelle Rice, Closerie des Lilas among key works, as well as two significant recent acquisitions, the bronze head Eastre and the oil painting In the Woods, Cap d'Antibes.
Loans from across Scotland also feature, including Stirling University Art Collection’s seminal Rhythm and a number of important works from the Fergusson Gallery in Perth, including Le Manteau Chinois and Self Portrait.
To accompany this exhibition, a range of special events are planned, including a series of 10 minute lunchtime talks, an evening lecture, Saturday art classes for children inspired by the exhibition, and a one-day symposium organised by the University’s Department for Adult and Continuing Education (DACE) examining Fergusson's contribution to art in Britain and France.
This exhibition is a must-see for anyone with an interest in Scottish art history. It will also make your feet tingle and your heart race. Go Fergus...
J. D. Fergusson, Les Eus, c. 1910. © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council.
This is an unedited version of a piece which appeared in The Herald arts section on Saturday 10 September