Fergusson moved to Paris in 1907 exposing himself to the full force of the European avant-garde, led by the ‘wild beasts’ of French art, such as Matisse, Derain and Kees van Dongen, known as the Fauves. An intense period of experimentation followed, which saw him desert the subdued tones of ‘realist’ painting in favour of two-dimensional planes of pure colour and bold outline. The energy and potency of Blue Nude reflects his debt to the expressive black outline as developed by Kees Van Dongen, and to the shameless abandon of Henri Matisse’s fauve masterpiece of 1907, his notorious Blue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra).
John Duncan Fergusson
Gouache on paper
30.5 × 24.8 cm
72 × 64 cm
Signed with monogram bottom left
© Courtesy of The Fergusson Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council
John Duncan Fergusson RBA, 1874-1961
Born in Leith, John Duncan Fergusson’s youthful determination to become an artist was underwritten by his wine merchant father, leading to stints at two Paris Académies in the 1890s while on painting trips abroad. He finally settled in Edinburgh where his close friendship with Peploe led to a shared commitment to painting highly accomplished works that echoed the techniques of old masters and French moderns.
His full time move to Paris in 1907 plunged him into the social and artistic ferment with its exhibitions of Picasso, Matisse and Braque. Within months he was showing radical new work, influenced by the Fauves, at the progressive Salon d’Automne. In time Fergusson allied himself to a splinter group of the Fauves known as the Rhythmists, becoming founding art editor of its journal.
A well-built, handsome swagger of a man, Fergusson had always been drawn to charismatic, confident women. The love of his life was Margaret Morris, one of the most innovative choreographers of the early 20th Century, whom he met in Paris before WW1.
The couple spent the war years in London moving back to France between the wars, where Fergusson’s produced a stream of landscapes and portraits that harked back to his pre-war colourist period and absorbed the innovative techniques of cubism. In 1939, Fergusson and Morris settled in Glasgow, where they remained for the rest of his life, revered as the Grand Old Man of the Scottish avant-garde.