Scottish Colourist, John Duncan Fergusson, threw himself wholeheartedly into his new life in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. The thriving bohemian Parisian café-culture proved a strong influence on his work, capturing the city's lively atmosphere with both his ambitious oils and quick charcoal sketches. Forthcoming in our next dedicated Scottish Paintings auction on 07 June are two works by Fergusson from this period.
Maxim's of Paris was founded as a bistro in 1893 and soon became one of the city's most popular and fashionable destinations. The restaurant's second owner, Eugene Cornuché, really brought the venue to life by installing the famous Art Nouveau interior and always making sure of a lively atmosphere. Cornuché was accustomed to say "An empty room... Never! I always have a beauty sitting by the window, in view from the sidewalk."
Ida Rubinstein was one of the stars of Sergei Diaghilev's famous Ballets Russes; an itinerant troupe of avant-garde dancers and performers who took Paris by storm in the first two decades of the 20th century. Many art historians now attribute much of the revolutionary cultural activity of the period to the impact of the ballet on artistic circles. From the risqué dances, extraordinary set and costume design, and boundary pushing compositions and choreography, the ballet set the abandoned, progressive tone of the day. The list of their collaborators is startling; from Stravinsky and Dubussy, to Picasso, Kandinsky, Matisse and even Coco Chanel.
Rubinstein was one of the spellbinding leads of the Ballet Russes. A Russian, born into a hugely wealthy aristocratic family in St Petersburg, she demonstrated a passion for performance and dance from a young age. Though dance did not come entirely naturally, the determined Rubinstein compensated for this with a magnetic stage presence and was high spirited enough to pursue her ambitions in the face of family disapproval. Convincing her parents to let her go to Paris under the pretence of furthering her education, Rubinstein took to the stage as an actress, but was committed to an asylum by her conservative brother-in-law; aghast at her perceived departure from social proprietary. Released by her concerned family, the tenacious Rubinstein married her first cousin who, madly in love with her, allowed her to travel and pursue her career in the performing arts.
1909, the year this work was created, was the year the Ballet Russes opened in Paris, and the year Rubinstein danced the title role of Cléopâtre. The timing and subject matter of this work demonstrates yet again how integrally positioned Fergusson was in the creative circles of Paris at this time. Fergusson sketched for the Ballet at the height of its success. It impacted his decision to found the Rhythmist movement, the main output of which was the production of an influential art periodical entitled 'Rhythm', which featured the work of influential modernist artists and writers. His fascination with movement, the female form and dance persisted within his work for the duration of his career, further cemented by his long-term romantic partnership with the avant-garde dancer Margaret Morris.