signed on the reverse: J. D. Fergusson; further signed and titled on an old label attached to the stretcher
"The latter half of John Duncan Fergusson's painting was dominated by his exuberant images of bathers and nudes, which for many hold an enduring appeal. Their vibrant colour and mood of exoticism and sensuality convey his immense love of life and capacity to appreciate its simplest pleasures." (Kirsten Simister, Living Paint: J. D. Fergusson 1874-1961, 2001, p. 110) The nude form was an extremely important subject for Fergusson who, as a self-taught artist, would have had limited access to the life model in his formative years unlike his contemporaries who had received formal art school training. It is perhaps this formal deprivation that ignited such a passionate and pure response to the human form that is so associated with Fergusson's finest work.
The first appearance of the nude figure in Fergusson's work can be traced to c.1910 when the artist was engaged in the design for the cover of Rhythm magazine (Lot 140) conceived by Fergusson and the English literary critic John Middleton Murray, devoted to the avant-garde in the Arts. Dr. Elizabeth Cumming highlights that this work is "one of the most important pieces of surviving early modernist British - or indeed European - graphic art works" and a key moment in the transition of Fergusson's subject matter. The nude figure had been a favourite subject for the Fauves who Fergusson and the other Colourists greatly admired, in particular Henri Matisse's controversial Blue Nude and Andre Derain's Three Bathers, both painted in 1907.
John Middleton Murray explained the importance Fergusson placed upon the central idea of Bergsonism: "One word was recurrent in all our strange discussions - the word rhythm...For Fergusson it [rhythm] was the essential quality in a painting or sculpture; and since it was at that moment that the Russian Ballet first came to Western Europe for a season at the Chatelet , dancing was obviously linked, by rhythm, with the plastic arts. From that, it was a short step to the position that rhythm was the distinctive element in all the arts, and that the real purpose of 'this modern movement' - a phrase frequent on Fergusson's lips - was to reassert the pre-eminence of rhythm." (Ibid Simister, p. 48). In addition to the theme of rhythm, Fergusson was also heavily influenced by the Cubist movement that was thriving in Paris and in particular to Picasso's seminal work Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, painted in 1907, which explores the primitive form. An obvious comparison can be drawn between this painting which marked a pivotal moment in the history of western art and Fergusson's monumental work Les Eus painted around five years later and which hangs in the Hunterian Art Gallery at Glasgow University.
Fergusson handles the two figures in Bathers with Mirror in an intensely organic manner and renders the same fullness of form that can be observed in his stone and bronze sculptures which are ultimately derived from early Celtic precedents. The elongated ovoid shape and rhythmic flow of the figures' limbs in Bathers with Mirror contain the exact same qualities as the muscular faun-like figures in his most celebrated work Les Eus. Bathers with Mirror is a wonderful example of Fergusson's mature style and contains each and every element one so clearly associates with one of Scotland's most celebrated Modernist painters.
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