A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

JD FERGUSSON 1874 - 1961

RBA, 1903

Biography

JD Fergusson was perhaps the most versatile and experimental of the Scottish Colourists his love of vibrant colour and depiction of the human form leaving a lasting impression on the viewer. He was an excellent draughtsman who was able to adapt the various new influences, which came over from Paris, making them into something personal and unique.

Born in Edinburgh in 1874 he was the eldest of four children. His family, successful wine merchants originally came from near Pitlochry, Perthshire. His passion for art began in the mid 1880s and although he had been accepted by the Trustees Academy, (the forerunner to Edinburgh College of Art), he gave up his formal training as he found it too rigid and limiting. The classes involved studying from the vast array of classical plaster casts but Fergusson was keen to learn directly from life and showing characteristic independence of mind, he taught himself.

From early in his career, travel was to play an important part of his artistic development, he went to Spain and Morrocco but it was France, and his experience of French art, which was most influential. His first trip to Paris took place around 1897 where he drew inspiration from French artists such as Edouard Manet and Claude Monet, and later the post impressionist artists known as the Fauves, but he was also a great admirer of the work of the American artist James Abbot McNeil Whistler. He met Samuel Peploe around 1900 and with their shared love of French painting they became immediate friends. The two made regular trips to the coastal resorts of Normandy and Brittany in North West France and following a successful London exhibition in 1905 Fergusson made plans to move to Paris permanently, and did so two years later. Unlike his fellow Colourists, Fergusson’s interest in depicting nude forms did not diminish over the course of his career and in 1913 he meet the woman who became so influential in his future work, dancer Margaret Morris. Her dynamic personality and sensuous physicality captivated Fergusson. Despite her undoubted importance as Fergusson’s model, this was secondary to the benefit of a mutually beneficial creative partnership.

Later that same year Fergusson set off for a sunnier climate than Paris and found it in the South of France, spending the summer with Peploe in Cassis. Although Margaret Morris was based with her dance school in London, she was to make regular visits to the South of France. At the outbreak of the Second World War their idyllic life was shattered and Fergusson returned to the UK, to base himself near Margaret in London. The 1920s were successful for Fergusson; he held his first one-man show in Scotland followed by the first of only three shows during their lifetimes with fellow Colourists Peploe, Hunter and Cadell in London in 1923. He returned to Paris in 1925 and settled there until the outbreak of the Second World War. On his return to Scotland he became actively involved with the younger Scottish artists forming the New Scottish Art Group in 1942 and he completed his book, Modern Scottish Painting in 1943.

He outlived his fellow colourists by some years and lived modestly, with Margaret Morris, in Glasgow until his death in 1961. Text source: The Dictionary of Scottish Painters (Haslby & Harris) and Living Paint, a catalogue and biography published by the Fergusson Gallery (Kirsten Simister)