‘I remember when Whistler was asked:
‘What is your opinion on subject matter in art?’
He replied: ‘Everything but the subject matter in art.’
Our Art Collection is privileged to possess several paintings by J. D. Fergusson. In the future we will discuss each painting separately for you, as each is monumental and magnificent and deserves a mention aside from this piece that focuses on the painter himself. Ferguson was a Scot in a full sense, and his national identity did not alter after his move to Paris, for him the essence of his identity was to remain Scottish with the obligation of it reflecting in his art. He was inspired by others, acknowledged French painters and the Glasgow Boys, spoke about them with amazement and respect but also with the certain dose of criticism. Scottish people through the decades proved to be open to International influences, by combining certain values but still remaining themselves. This is what Fergusson has achieved in our eyes, and just by looking at the progress he has made just within a decade even untrained eye can see a difference. For example, his brush strokes. Looking at the: The White Dress: Portrait of Jane, this is an early Fergusson from 1904, the representation of the woman is realistic and is a traditional portrait accepted by the Salon at the time, but can anyone now say that this is a Scottish painting as it is obviously Fergusson? The answer to that is simple: NO. In the search for ones roots, the style, and line a painter has to accept who he is, and definitely J.D. Fergusson achieved this level, and as a consequence he is a recognised Scottish painter in our times. In the book Modern Scottish Painting, he discusses deep issues that arrive together with the sense of art and identity:
‘…use your brains to get to a state where you can be free to go by your feelings, and not be afraid to like something, because it’s not like some acknowledged masterpiece, academic or other’. (p.111).
Let’s now look at the Rhythm from 1911 owned by our collection, the depiction of woman is more structured, she is nude and heavily outlined, the background is abstract and she forms part of the surroundings. Fergusson was not able to present this painting during his life as the Salon would not approve any nudity but the thought canons. Neither famous Les Eus, has not been presented to the public during the painter’s life for the fear of heavy criticism.
In the Modern Scottish Painting he is critical of the prudish Calvinists and their restrictive vision on art, and in this sense he is closer to main land Europe. French Impressionism inspires and moves him more, rather than the conservatives from his homeland, therefore he bravely discusses restrictions and the way out of the minds prison. In his opinion progress is only through liberation:
‘…progressive should only mean liberating, liberating by a persistent attempt to find the fundamentals, the essentials or truths, instead of adding clever gadgets, or by using fashionable stunts’. (p.84)
In his view being up-to-date means no more than ‘with the latest gadgets’, this was not who he wished to be, as he was not a pleaser, he was a leader and fundamentally shook the world of Scottish painting. As an Elder to the Glasgow boys he was an inspiration and encouragement for them to fulfil their visions. As for his own painting the rule he followed was to extract from the mass of information and choose right messages which relate to him.
Apart of being an open mind a great help to his colleagues and being a Scottish Nationalist in the best sense, he was encouraging and spoke openly about necessity and the importance of women being treated equally to men. His lifelong partner Margaret Morris was an instant inspiration to him as a man and a painter. Her famous school of dance the ‘MMM’ was a big part of Fergusson’s life and he could not look at her otherwise but equal. In his paintings these feminist views are strongly reflected, in the Rhythm the strength of the women, her muscular body is sitting firmly holding a fruit. You can see powerful shapes and still feminine curves, round breasts, straight back, not fragile and helpless, but strong and fearless, these are Ferguson’s women.
To discover the strength of the message that his work bring do not hesitate and visit our collection at the Pathfoot Building. We would be more than happy to show you around some more information on the artefact of the collection.
The White Dress: Portrait of Jane
Text by Karolina.