John Duncan Fergusson is acclaimed as a pre-eminent member of the Scottish Colourists – a group of four artists that thrived with their shared interest and training in the French art scene. It is strange to think that a Scottish Colourist would choose a medium so restricted in colour, and he was the only of the four to work in three dimensions. Nonetheless, the period of 1918-22 saw the peak of his sculptural output, in which it can be assumed his Seated Nude mould was made. For Fergusson, sculpture presented new, provoking ways to manipulate and experiment with the human form, the physicality of his sculpture as exciting as the colour in his painted works. The form of Seated Nude is suggestive of his concurrent fascination with the female figure; the pose is atypical, displaying the woman in a stance of meditation. Her legs are crossed, her arms are outstretched, and her head rigidly faces forward.
In many ways, the bronze figure resembles icons of non-Western art – a field by which he was greatly influenced. Recall, perhaps, the ample imagery of sitting Buddha statues that can be found throughout the Asian continent. Cambodia and India, in particular, were of interest to Fergusson whose Celtic roots, he believed, were shared with these peoples. His time working in Paris, Edinburgh and London introduced him to museum collections of objects from foreign lands, and his highly intellectual approach to art certainly expanded his world view.
Despite the noticeably continental influence on his work, there still remained this Celtic Spirit͛ which he so passionately championed; his newfound interest in sculpture could be likened to the masonry carving of the Celts, his Seated Nude suggestive of a certain primitivism in its figure and material. During the First World War, Fergusson spent time in Edinburgh directly carving in stone, following attempts in terracotta and clay throughout his stay in Antibes.
Fergusson was producing sculpture alongside his modernist contemporaries working in Paris, such as Jacob Epstein and Constantin Brancusi who were all aligned in their similar choice of material and subject. Nonetheless, judged against concurrent work being produced in Britain, Fergusson’s sculptural practice was highly unique in its investigation and rendering of the human form. His Seated Nude demonstrates an assured concoction of influences, cultures, and his intellectual outlook on art. It is one of a few pointedly under-appreciated, yet fundamental, sculptures from an artist whose work helped shape 20th Century Modernism.