With a major retrospective of Scottish colourist John Duncan Fergusson about to open at the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh-based art broker Alexander Meddowes felt it was the right time to exhibit a collection of unseen works held by the Fergusson family since the artist’s death in 1961.
From now until Friday January 10, Meddowes – who has known the family for a number of years – is presenting 134 sketches, as well as small-scale paintings and sculptures, by the artist spanning a period of over 60 years. They range from Fergusson’s early days in Edinburgh, where he decided a formal art education was too restrictive for him, to his later transformative life in France, which culminated in Antibes in 1959.
The breadth of the period on show allows us, says art critic Iain Gale, to gain an intimate knowledge of the artist’s development thanks to influences including primitivism, the work of Cézanne and futurism, but mostly his “ability with a single stroke of the pencil to convey emotion. Art for Fergusson was a creative reaction to the physicality and spirituality of life and the most spontaneous manifestation of that reaction was putting pencil to paper.”
The artist drew wherever he went, sometimes as a precursor to the large-scale, often-hypercoloured figurative oil paintings that will make up the National Galleries exhibition, but often as street-style sketches in their own right. He was, says Meddowes, particularly seduced by the glamour and intrigue of the Paris café scene in the early 1900s, spending his days capturing spontaneous images of Parisian beauties and their beaux, many of which make up the drawings in the exhibition. Not all are flattering. “He was adept at catching the sitter apparently unawares or at what might be an awkward moment,” says Gale.
But Fergusson was not just about the sensual. The painter spent a period in 1918 at Portsmouth Docks, having been commissioned by the War Department to follow the domestic pursuits of wartime boat building, and although Meddowes hopes the likes of the Imperial War Museum may be interested in the Portsmouth sketchbooks in their entirety, interest in individual sketches can be registered with the gallery during the exhibition.
For Meddowes, hotly tipped pieces from the collection, which are selling rapidly, include the sketch Woman in a Feathered Large Hat (£7,500), a number of the Portsmouth sketches, (£30,000-£40,000 in their entirety, example second picture), an angular olive-wood carving called Plénitude d’Olivier (from £40,000, third picture) and several landscapes (£7,000-£10,000), including Sky After Rain, Peebles from 1905 (first picture). The collection as a whole is worth in excess of £300,000. Says Meddowes: “It’s a chance to own a piece by an artist whose large-scale oils go for hundreds of thousands of pounds, and who was one of the key colourists of the 20th century.”