John Duncan Fergusson and Margaret Morris first met Martha Lawrence Grant (1916-96) when the latter attended Morris’s dance classes in Glasgow in the 1930s. She became a vital figure in Margaret Morris Movement (MMM) and was in the process of establishing an MMM school in Aberdeen when World War Two began. At that point, Fergusson was primarily based in Paris, whilst Morris spent most of her time in London; the conflict resulted in their move to 4 Clouston Street, Glasgow.
Fergus and Meg, as they were affectionately known, galvanised the city’s art scene. They were founder members of the New Art Club in 1940, which aimed to stimulate debate and to create affordable exhibiting opportunities. Two years later, Fergusson became founding President of the Club’s successor, the New Scottish Group, which staged eight exhibitions of its members’ work between 1943 and 1956.
It is believed that Martha met James Fullarton Arnott (1914-82) through the New Art Club. James was an Assistant Lecturer in the English Department at the University of Glasgow, where he was to become Emeritus Professor of Drama. The couple formed a lifelong creative friendship with Fergus and Meg and were married in 1945.
Their son Alan was born in 1948 and he has recalled:
The impact of Fergus and Meg on the artistic life of post-war Glasgow, and indeed Scotland, was immense. Painters, sculptors, potters, designers, dancers, actors and musicians all thrived in the atmosphere of post-war Glasgow. While Meg and Fergus provided the artistic inspiration, Mum and Dad provided backing, encouragement and support.
During James’s illustrious career, he devised the Drama course at the re-opened Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) and in 1966 was appointed the first Head of the Drama Department at the University of Glasgow.
Martha helped to establish and run the RSAMD Library, as well as designing and creating costumes for Academy and University productions.
With his knowledge of arts funding and art world contacts, James provided vital support in Meg’s launching of the Celtic Ballet, Scottish National Ballet and Scottish Ballet companies. In her turn, Martha taught and danced at MMM Summer Schools and sat for Fergus, not least sharing modelling duties with Meg for his Glasgow-era masterpiece Danu, Mother of the Gods of 1952, now in The Fergusson Gallery, Perth.
Alan has further explained:
We holidayed in the South of France with them both in the 50s and with Meg in the 60s. They lived in Glasgow (in the West End) and were regular visitors to our houses in Saltcoats and then Glasgow – and we frequently visited them.
Following Fergus’s death in 1961, Meg established the J. D. Fergusson Art Foundation to secure his legacy and to support living artists. Martha and James were founding committee members and Alan succeeded James on the committee in 1983. The Foundation’s aims were achieved with the opening of The Fergusson Gallery in Perth in 1992 and the launch of the J. D. Fergusson Arts Award Trust in 1995.
Supper Dance and Kelvin Valley pay testament to this creative friendship. Both were given to the Arnotts by Meg in the 1960s and are beautiful examples from key periods in Fergus’s career. In 1907, he took the momentous decision to move from Edinburgh to Paris, which he described as ‘simply a place of freedom’. He immersed himself in the artistic, intellectual and social life of the French capital and made his reputation as a leading artist of the twentieth century during the six years he lived there before World War One. He particularly revelled in its bustling café and restaurant scene and Supper Dance is a beautifully accomplished image of the fashionable clientele whom Fergus enjoyed capturing in images of elegance and movement. His fluid draughtsmanship is clear in passages such as the realisation of the female dancer’s gown, whilst a lively composition leads the eye from the champagne in the foreground, to the dancing couple, to another observed in intimate conversation in the background.
Kelvin Valley is a jewel of a painting, in which Fergus pays homage to the city which was the location for the final chapter of his international career. The Clouston Street flat overlooked Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens and was joined, via the River Kelvin, to Kelvingrove Park; these green spaces provided inspiration for the artist’s late, lyrical landscapes. He developed a distinct ‘Glasgow palette’ characterised by high-toned shades of green and pink, which were delicately and deftly applied to their supports in a gentle yet confident finale to the images of Princes Street Gardens, the Scottish Highlands and the South of France which preceded them.
As Alan has concluded:
Fergus was a lovely man. He treated children the same as everyone else and encouraged me to draw. Meg was full of life and energy and retained the strength and grace of a 20-year-old. There was great love and generosity of spirit amongst us all.
NICK CURNOW | HEAD OF DEPARTMENT
0131 557 8844
ALICE STRANG | SENIOR SPECIALIST
0131 557 8844