Of the four Scottish Colourists, it is John Duncan Fergusson’s admiration of the female body and rhythmic lines that have made him stand out as the most versatile and experimental. Fergusson was a proud Scotsman but it was during time spent in Paris and in particular the South of France, among his circle of friends, which included Derain and Picasso, that he felt a true sense of artistic freedom. This affinity for the French Riviera can be seen in Cassis Bay, a highlight from our forthcoming Scottish Art auction in London on 22 November, which is a spontaneous work full of warm colours and refracted sunlight. Fergusson was also a devoted admirer of les fauves, and his painting Amongst the Rocks, Cap d’Antibes, another striking highlight from the sale, demonstrates the influence of Matisse and Cézanne in particular with its bold linear brushstrokes and complex handling of tone and colour.
JOHN DUNCAN FERGUSSON, AMONGST THE ROCKS, CAP D'ANTIBES. ESTIMATE £100,000–150,000.
Amongst the Rocks, Cap d'Antibes is most likely a depiction of Fergusson’s great love, Margaret Morris, or Meg, as Fergusson called her. Far more than just an artistic muse, Morris was a modern liberal woman who pioneered avant-garde dance and was the first proponent of the Isodora Duncan technique in Britain. At the age of just nineteen Morris opened her first dance school in Chelsea and her radical new dance technique, the Margaret Morris Method (MMM), which promoted breathing with co-coordinated movements designed to develop a sense of rhythm, is still widely followed today.
JOHN DUNCAN FERGUSSON, CASSIS BAY (RECTO), SELF PORTRAIT (VERSO), 1913. ESTIMATE £70,000–100,000.
Fergusson and Meg first met in Paris in 1913 and both quickly recognised a kindred artistic spirit. Their love blossomed in the South of France and the couple regularly holidayed in Cap d’Antibes where Morris ran summer dance schools. Fergusson sketched Morris and her students amongst dappled sunlight, ragged rocks and white sands, exploring the connection between rhythm and painting.
MARGARET MORRIS, JUAN-LES-PINS, 1923.
Far away from the peering and judgmental eyes of society, Fergusson could study the female form under the heat of the Mediterranean sun. Indeed, Fergusson’s view of a feminine élan vital (life force), would inform much of his painting. Amongst the Rocks, Cap d’Antibes, suggests a symbiosis between the female body and nature, the woman’s languid arm, fierce posture and curved hips seem to rhyme with movement of the bowed pines and angular rocks.
J.D. FERGUSSON IN HIS PARIS STUDIO, 1909.
Fergusson and Morris both shared a passion for sun-worship and an obsession over their physique. They were vegetarian and strongly believed in a link between the physical and the spiritual. The free spirits and the unconventional pair that they were, they chose not to have a family on their own, believing this would be selfish in light of their commitments and careers. Consequently, when Fergusson died in 1961, Morris did everything in her power to uphold his artistic legacy; she wrote an autobiography on their time together and founded the J.D. Fergusson Art Foundation and the Fergusson Gallery in Perth.