John Duncan Fergusson, R.B.A.
- John Duncan Fergusson, R.B.A.
- Street Scene, Paris
- signed, inscribed and dated on the reverse: J. D. FERGUSSON, / PARIS 1907.
- oil on board
With paintings such as this, Fergusson dealt with the city in its entirety. In a topographical sense, the piece documents the architectural fabric of the city, with mansard roofs emerging from the tree-lined avenue. This then serves as the theatrical backdrop for city life, which Fergusson observed with great intent. With shifting fashions and developing technology, the streets of Paris in 1907 were at the forefront of modern innovation, and it was here that the artist remained for several years.
Also instrumental in the artist’s experience of the city was his meeting with Anne Estelle Rice at the northern resort of Paris-Plage. Originally from Pennsylvania, Rice had been sent to illustrate Parisian fashion trends for an American magazine. Rice and Fergusson made a perfect match. Both gregarious and eager to experience the city, they accompanied each other to cafés and restaurants, experiencing the bohemian lifestyle first-hand. A painting of the same year, Anne Estelle Rice (Closerie des Lilas) (Huntarian Art Gallery, Glasgow Unifversity), depicts Rice at the popular café on Boulevard du Montparnasse. It is an example of how the couple would frequent the most fashionable spots on the Left Bank, and how with Rice, Fergusson had the confidence to explore looser brushwork and a wider palette. Indeed, Rice is the subject of many of the artist’s most notable works of this period (see the portrait sketch in lot 5).
So enamoured with the city, Fergusson encouraged his friend S.J. Peploe to relocate to Paris. Peploe joined Rice and Fergusson as part of the wider artistic circle in Montparnasse, and it was an immensely creative period for all involved. Fergusson later recounted his experiences: ‘We used to meet round the corner at Boudet’s restaurant… When we couldn’t pay we did our signed and dated portraits on the back of the bill. After dinner we went to L’Avenue for coffee and music.’ (Alice Strang, S. J. Peploe, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2012, p.21)
Paris also offered more artistic freedom in practical terms, as with more receptive audiences, came greater opportunities to exhibit. Most notably, Fergusson was able to exhibit at the Salon d’Automne, where he began sending works in 1907, and was elected sociétaire in 1909.
The present work summarises Fergusson’s time spent in Paris. In stylistic terms, the brushstrokes are remarkably free and pronounced, with a single brushstroke describing a hat or the flow of a dress. It appears that Fergusson’s art was sharply in tune with the pace of the city. The artist’s acquaintances and experiences in Paris amounted to a prolific few years of artistic output, ended only by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.