Although widely known as a Scottish Colourist, John Duncan Fergusson had many distinctive traits that set him apart from the other members of the group. These included his lack of formal art education, emphasis on figurative work, fondness for intellectualising about art and commitment to the promotion of the arts through networks, events and publications. This group of works form the collection of the Late Ian and Anne Robertson, who collected Fergusson's work due to a family connection; Anne's father was James Macmillan Marshall, a friend of, and sitter for, the artist. The collection demonstratesthe many varied facets of Fergusson's artistic career and allows his individual talent to shine.
Sculpture was something that Fergusson dabbled in throughout his career, his decisions in materials and scale often guided by his lack of funds. Although relatively little is known about his sculptural work, it remains an important part of his oeuvre, and demonstrates his distinctive artistic identity and talent. Philosophy, a stylised female figure glowing golden with a flourish of flowers blooming out of one side and a single geometric bird balancing on her other hand and shoulder, is strikingly modern yet has a timeless quality.
France played a key role in Fergusson’s personal and professional life, and became a second, artistic home. Fergusson was drawn to Paris first and the café society there offered him endless amusement and subject matter, as he tried to capture the effects of each passing, stylish moment in small-scale works such as At the Cafe Table. The materiality of the paint on the surface of the board just adds to the atmosphere of this charming scene, demonstrating the fashionable dress and engaging social activity that surrounded the artist. As Fergusson himself noted in Paris, ‘Something new had started and I was very much intrigued. But there was no language for it that made sense in Edinburgh or London.’
Despite the endless entertainment and stimulating artistic company and opportunities in Paris, by 1913, Fergusson was looking for something new, "I had grown tired of the north of France; I wanted more sun, more colour; I wanted to go south." It became a place to which he and his partner, the dancer Margaret Morris, returned again and again for long, luxurious summers. Together they held strong views on the importance of leading a healthy outdoor lifestyle in a warm, sunny environment. So Morris hosted her summer schools while Fergusson sketched the dancers and bathers that would become recurring subjects in sun-dappled works like The Picnic, with its Cezanne-inspired brushwork and chalky white tones conveying the strong heat and bright sunshine.
War interrupted Fergusson and Morris’ sunny idyll and eventually they chose to settle in Glasgow, which Fergusson felt to be the most Celtic Scottish city, an important accolade from an artist who was endlessly proud of his Scottish ancestry. Together they set to engaging and enlivening the Glasgow arts scene and it was around this time that Fergusson began to receive establishment recognition, following a successful touring retrospective in 1948. Greenhouse, Botanic Gardens from the early 1950s, demonstrates Fergusson’s endless commitment to his established technique and subject matter; observing city folk at their leisure in the botanic garden whilst capturing the green lushness and utilising the Cezanne-esque brushstrokes and hints of the Fauvist complementary colours that he first encountered and adapted at the turn of the century. It also demonstrates why he came to be known as a colourist, in this, as all the offered works, the colours remain brilliantly fresh and clear.