Lot 75
  • 75

John Duncan Fergusson 1874-1961

70,000 - 100,000 GBP
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  • John Duncan Fergusson
  • still life of primulas in a glass vase
  • signed and dated on the reverse: J. D. Fergusson 1903
  • oil on board


Margaret Morris;
Purchased by the present owner from Ian MacNicol, Glasgow in 1964


Scottish Arts Council, J. D. Fergusson 1874-1961: Memorial Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, November 1961 - June 1962, no. 16, lent by Margaret Morris

Catalogue Note

The considerable influence upon the Colourists of the work of the French painter Edouard Manet, is strikingly evident in this beautiful study of delicately-hued primula flowers. It was made in the same period that Fergusson made a well-known series of still lifes of jonquils in silver vases (Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation and the Hunterian Art Gallery) in which the influence of Manet is often cited. This interest in the dramatic contrast between colour and tone, texture and surface, can also be found in contemporary works by Samuel John Peploe (see lot 76) who shared Fergusson's enthusiasm for Manet when the two Scottish artists were close friends in Paris in the first years of the twentieth century. Manet was their artistic hero at this time and the influence of his approach to art is clearly evident in their work. As Fergusson wrote in Memories of Peploe published in the Scottish Art Review; 'We were both very much impressed with the Impressionists, whose work we saw in the Salle Caillebotte in the Luxembourg and in Durand Ruel's gallery. Manet and Monet were the painters who fixed our direction... Manet especially.' (quoted by Margaret Morris, The Art of J. D. Fergusson - A Biased Biography, 1974, p.40). Both Peploe and Fergusson were inspired by the loose monumentality of Manet's still-lifes and his manipulation of tonal values to suggest form and light in a manner which is both sublime and subtle. Comparison of the present picture and Manet's White Peonies with Pruning Shears of 1864 (Musee d'Orsay, Paris), reveals the great influence of the French artist upon his Scottish admirer. Here we can detect the same interest in the powerful tonal contrast suggested by dark leaves and pale blooms set against simple backgrounds of neutral tones, like the Oriental woodcuts which had so influenced Manet. Often working side by side Peploe and Fergusson's pictures of this period are difficult to discern from one another, '... their palettes became paler and fresher and their brushwork more fluent in handling. They developed the facility to convey the essence of their subject matter with breathtaking simplicity using thick, creamy paint, applied with seemingly effortless skill.' (Kirstin Simister, Living Paint: J. D. Fergusson 1894-1961, 2001, p. 23).

The looseness and fluidity of this study, suggests a sensuality of technique and the enthusiastic pleasure of the artist in his handling of the paint at a time of great inspiration and excitement in the work of the young man. There is no pretentiousness or formality in the placing of the flowers in a simple glass vase and the colours of the flowers themselves are the subject rather than any self-consciously clever lighting effects. There is a very tangible feeling that the flowers were painted by the artist for the sheer joy of painting them.

The glass vase appears to be the same one that appears in Fergusson's portrait of Jean Maconochie of 1904 entitled The White Dress (Fergusson Gallery).