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A Leither for ever: J D Fergusson: Painter


Many of you will have heard of the Scottish painter John Duncan Fergusson, a leading light of the Scottish Colourist School of painting. However you may also be surprised to find that he was born, and at least in his early years, brought up in Leith.

On the 60th anniversary of his death, 30th January 1961, Leith For Ever took a look back at the life and career of the celebrated Scottish colourist who came into this world on 9th March 1874 at 7 Crown Street.

Fergusson’s family - of Gaelic speaking stock - were wine merchants who originally hailed from Pitlochry.

The eldest of four children, John initially thought to become a naval surgeon, indeed began studying medicine at Edinburgh University. It wasn’t long however before he switched his vocation to that of artist instead.

Finding the art tuition at The Trustees Academy (now Edinburgh College of Art) too rigid for his taste, he soon decided to immerse himself in the work of his peers and began travelling to Spain, Morocco, and most influentially, Paris. Where he decided to live in 1907.

There he was initially introduced to the work of French artists Edouard Manet and Claude Monet, followed by the likes of Henri Matisse and the Fauvists who would go on to influence the greater part of his career.

Fergusson’s name is often linked to three other Scottish artists who were also in Paris around the same time - Francis Cadell, Leslie Hunter and Samuel Peploe.

While their work varies greatly, the common use of bright vibrant colours combined with the influence of Scottish painting styles led to them being collectively grouped as the Scottish Colourists in the 1940s.

It was also in Paris, at this time, that he met his future wife and lifetime collaborator, the dancer Margaret Morris. The pair would eventually return to Glasgow in 1939, thereafter splitting their time between Scotland and France until Fergusson’s death in 1961.

60 years after his death, J D Fergusson’s name still resonates across the world. And he remains, arguably, Scotland’s greatest colourist and, inarguably, one of Leith’s greatest sons.

‘His art is a deep and pure expression of his immense love of life. Endowed with a rare plastic feeling, almost sculptural in its quality. He joined with it an exceptional sense of colour, outspoken, ringing colours, rich and splendid in their very substance’.

Andre Dunoyer de Segonzac, in his foreword to the memorial exhibition of 1961.

Big thanks to Claire & Barbara at

Info: Fergusson self portrait, watercolour & pencil on paper.Memorial Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture. Diploma Galleries of the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, 11 Nov-2 Dec 1961


J D Fergusson’ remains, arguably, Scotland’s greatest colourist and, inarguably, one of Leith’s greatest sons


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