J. D. Fergusson at the Hunterian

While we were in Glasgow last week we went to have a look at the exhibition Colour, Rhythm and Form: J. D. Fergusson and France showing at the Hunterian Art Gallery until 8 January 2012. It features a large number of paintings from the Fergusson Gallery in Perth together with works from the Hunterian’s own collection and three painting loaned by the Pompidou centre in Paris.

J. D. Fergusson, Self Portrait, 1907 © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council

Fergusson (1874-1961) was one of the group of four Scottish artists collectively known as “the Scottish Colourists”, the others being Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935), George Leslie Hunter (1877-1931) and Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883-1937).  They were all strongly influenced by French Avant-garde art from the early Twentieth Century, putting their own Scottish stamp on the styles. Fergusson, Peploe and Hunter exhibited together in Paris as Les Peintres de l’Écosse Moderne (Modern Scottish Painters) in 1924 and Les Peintres Ecossais (The Scottish Painters) in 1931.

As the title of the exhibition suggests, it focuses on Fergusson’s work but there are some examples of paintings by other Colourists. He lived in France between 1907 and 1914 and returned a number of times after the war.

I’d first come across his work in Manchester City Art Gallery who have one of his paintings in their collection.

J D Fergusson Le Quartier Paris 1906

As I noted in a previous post, I liked the simplicity of the composition and the style of painting – broad brush strokes and bright colours. This picture wasn’t included in the Hunterian exhibition, but there were plenty of other works to see that illustrated how Fergusson and the other “Colourists” were heavily influenced by the exciting developments in art taking place in Paris at the turn of the 20th Century. I’d recently seen the exhibition in Budapest of works by the “Hungarian Fauvists (A Nyolcak)” , another group of artists who were in Paris around the same time and were also heavily influenced by Cubist and Fauvist ideas, so it was particularly interesting to see how Fergusson’s work compared.

The works were displayed chronologically so it was easy to see how Fergusson’s style developed and changed over time as he absorbed influences from French artistic movements.

Early paintings show a strong influence by Whistler, a large collection of whose works are owned by the Hunterian (see here). They were very grey, dull and muddy, with little sign of the bright colours that were to typify his later works. His views and artistic approach changed when he became aware of Manet, Monet and the Impressionists during a number of visits to France, the first around 1897. He was later to explain

“Everyone in Scotland should refuse to have anything to do with black or dirty and dingy colours, and insist on clean colours in everything. I remember when I was young any colour was considered a sign of vulgarity. Greys and blacks were the only colours for people of taste and refinement. Good pictures had to be black, grey, brown or drab. Well! let’s forget it, and insist on things in Scotland being of colour that makes for and associates itself with light, hopefulness, health and happiness.”
— J. D. Fergusson, Modern Scottish Painting, William MacLellan, Glasgow 1943.

Having said that, a number of his later paintings show a Whistlerian influence, although with much brighter colours. For example, Le Manteau Chinois

Le Manteau Chinois 1909

Many of Fergusson’s paintings displayed in the exhibition are of women. The American artist Anne Estelle Rice, who he met in Paris, and his long term partner, who he met in France in 1913, the dancer Margaret Morris, both modelled for him and feature in many of his works. That’s Anne in the Chinese outfit above and in the next couple of pictures. Margaret features heavily in his work from 1913 onwards.

The painting from the Manchester City Art Gallery, which was painted in 1906, the year before he moved to France, shows a strong Impressionist influence. The earlier paintings from his time in Paris, such as Anne Estelle Rice in Paris, continue this trend.

J. D. Fergusson, Anne Estelle Rice in Paris, Closerie des Lilas, 1907 © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council.

But he was soon trying out new styles as can be seen in Le Voile Persan , a very “flat” painting where the blocks of colour are outlined with heavy lines and less naturalistic colours are beginning to creep in. This was my favourite of all the pictures in the exhibition. It’s from the Hunterian Gallery’s own collection and I’d seen it during a previous visit in July. I was so taken with it I’d even bought a postcard!

J. D. Fergusson, Le Voile Persan, 1909 © The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery

The exhibition showed how Fergusson tried out different approaches, illustrated by three works painted during a stay in Royan in 1910, each of which is painted in a different style (one even looking as if it was painted by Van Gogh). A distinct Fauvist influence appears in his work at this time

File:JD Fergusson, People and Sails.jpg

J. D. Fergusson, People and Sails at Royan, 1910

J. D. Fergusson, Les Eus, c 1910 © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council


J. D. Fergusson, At My Studio Window, 1910 © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council

Fergusson was art editor of the Modernist magazine, Rhythm. The magazine title was suggested by Fergusson and the cover was based on one of the paintings from his Paris period,

Cover of Rhythm magazine (1911) by J D Fergusson

J. D. Fergusson, Rhythm, 1911

Another picture I liked was this portrait of Margaret Morris.

J. D. Fergusson Summer 1920

J. D. Fergusson, Christmas Time in the South of France, 1922 © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council

One of his paintings, La Déssee de la Rivière was purchased by the French Government on the opening day of the 1931 exhibition held in Paris.  It’s now held by the Pompidou Centre who have lent it to the Hunterian, together with two other paintings,  La Forêt by Peploe and Lac Lomond by Hunter, which they purchased at the same time.

a painting of a reclining nude

J.D. Fergusson, La Déesse de la Rivière, c 1928 © Collection Centre Pompidou

There were a couple of sculptures displayed, including a cast of Estre, Hymn to the Sun – a bust of Margaret Morris. We’d seen another copy a little earlier in the day when we’d visited the Kelvingrove Museum, who have a small collection of works by the Colourists.


J. D. Fergusson Estre, Hymn to the Sun c 1924

I thought that this was an excellent exhibition, providing a good opportunity to learn more about an important Scottish artist. Talking to one of the staff, attendance so far has been on the low side. She reckoned it was because Scots aren’t used to paying to see exhibitions (entry cost £5 each). I can understand that. Charging a fee inevitably restricts entry to the more affluent. However, the exhibition deserves to be a success. It’s on until 8 January and is definitely worth a visit by anyone interested in 20th Century British art.