John Duncan Fergusson (Scottish 1874 –1961)

John Duncan Fergusson was a Scottish artist and sculptor, regarded as one of the major artists of the Scottish Colourists school of painting. Fergusson was born in Edinburgh.  He briefly trained as a  naval surgeon but later enrolled at the Trustees Academy, an Edinburgh-based art school. He rapidly became disenchanted with the rigid teaching style and left. He began to travel to Morocco, Spain and France, where became acquainted with other contemporary artists. Amongst them was a fellow Scottish artists, Samuel Peploe. They would later become identified as the Scottish Colourists. 

In 1898, Fergusson took his first trip to Paris to study at the Louvre.  He was influenced by the impressionist paintings at the Salle Caillebotte and later by Fauvism. The fauvist principles of using colour would become a strong feature of his art. Andre Dunoyer de Segonzac wrote in his foreword to Fergusson’s memorial exhibition of 1961: “His art is a deep and pure expression of his immense love of life. Endowed with a rare plastic feeling, almost sculptural in its quality. He joined with it an exceptional sense of colour, outspoken, ringing colours, rich and splendid in their very substance.

Fergusson became part of the enormous growth in artistic talent that Paris was home to at the beginning of the twentieth century. There he mingled with artists like Matisse and Picasso in the café society for which the city was renowned. In addition, he and his friend Samuel Peploe regularly painted together at the a seaside resort of Paris Plage and other places along the coast between 1904-9. It was at this period too that he commenced his relationship with the American illustrator Anne Estelle Rice.

By the outbreak of World War I,  Fergusson was considered to be at the forefront of modern British painting. During the war years, however, he achieved little artistically and it was only towards the end of the war that he regained the momentum in his work.

In the 1920s Fergusson was settled in a studio in London.  His first solo exhibition was in 1923 and he was also involved in several important group exhibitions. In 1928 he and his partner, the dancer Margaret Morris, moved to Paris, where they lived until war once again loomed over Europe, prompting the couple to move to Glasgow in 1939 where they were to remain for the rest of their lives. A member of Glasgow Art Club, Fergusson exhibited a portrait in the club’s exhibition, April 1939.

In 1940 Fergusson founded the New Art Club, out of which emerged the New Scottish Group of painters of which he was the first president. In 1943 he published his book on “Modern Scottish Painting”. On his death, his widow, Margaret Morris, presented fourteen of his paintings to the University of Stirling when it was founded in 1968. His work remains popular and in 1992 a permanent gallery was founded in Perth to house it.

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