Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Fergusson Gallery, Perth

I visited The Fergusson Gallery in Perth this afternoon, which was quite an eye-opening experience for several reasons.

Despite being an art student for the last 4 years in Edinburgh (which has many big art galleries), I've rarely visited galleries in my life - in fact I can only recall 2 previous visits to big-name galleries: the Picasso museum in Malaga, Spain (April 2005) and two of the Edinburgh galleries during my induction week at Edinburgh College of Art (September 2005).
Most of the art I experience is through books and the Internet, so to see a bunch of genuine paintings by a famous artist right in front of me felt quite surreal. These were all oil paintings from the early 1900s painted on a big scale that overwhelmed me (because I tend to work on a small scale - hardly ever bigger than A3, and usually smaller than A4), yet in this gallery there were several full-body portraits about 5 foot tall!

One of the first things I noticed in the upstairs gallery (my favourite section) was that the paint surface of several stunning paintings were cracked and aged... Perhaps this would not bother people that visit galleries more often than myself, but I found it quite disappointing - before quickly realising that the cracked surfaces make the paintings feel alive and more hand-made (something I don't sense from viewing art online). This living quality of the painting surfaces also helped me to imagine the artist standing in my place working on that very surface 100 years ago. (It was pretty cool!)

Most of the art in the gallery was by Scottish artist James Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961), whom the museum is named after, but there is also a small selection of impressive artworks by his Scottish Colourist companions like Francis Cadell and Samuel Peploe.
I have never felt much of an influence from my native Scottish art history or culture, but I really enjoyed most of this Scottish exhibition - I suppose mainly because these artists took strong influence themselves from French Impressionist and Fauvist artists (such as Cezanne, Manet, and Matisse) whom I greatly admire... However I don't think these Scottish paintings need the Impressionist name to help sell them - they are easily capable of standing alone on their own merit.

There are 3 gallery rooms within the little Fergusson Gallery (which is located in a renovated Water Works building at Marshall Place near the South Inch), and undoubtedly Gallery 3 (upstairs) is my favourite section. This is because it contains several stunning 5-foot tall paintings, a lot of wonderful portraits in various beguiling styles that I found really inspiring, some Impressionistic landscapes, and a series of paintings by Fergusson's fellow Scottish Colourists - of which there are two paintings that I am especially fond of.

I was trying to find some images online to illustrate this blog post, but I've been unable to locate any images of the paintings that particularly impressed me. (So I might go back some day to try taking photos because they really were awesome! But it's a free gallery, so if you're in the region I would highly recommend popping-in for a quick look).

I found some amazing paintings by Scottish artists this afternoon, and I also discovered a number of impressive artworks by alumni from my former college (such as William George Gillies, Anne Redpath, and Sir William MacTaggart), which has given me a greater appreciation for the reputation of Edinburgh College of Art than I have recently had! (Prior to this afternoon I was only really familiar with the work of sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi and painter John Bellany - neither of whom I am too keen on)...
Today's gallery visit definitely helped me to get a greater appreciation of Scottish art, and even inspired me to get back to my current painting (which I've not touched for several days now)! But the most awe-inspiring moment today was when I looked up from a glass display case of Fergusson's sketchbooks and other personal items to discover the only Fergusson painting that I already knew: Christmas in the South of France (1922).

This is a painting that I had quickly copied from a book onto A6 sized card for research during my final year at High School, but had never seen in reality (or on a bigger scale than my A6 version).
Before entering the museum I hadn't even thought of Fergusson's work, so to suddenly notice that painting in it's genuine physical form on about A3 scale was unbelievable.

Gallery Info:
The Fergusson Gallery
Marshall Place,
PH2 8NS,

Open from Monday - Saturday
10:00am - 5:00pm.
Free admission.

Related websites:
- The J.D. Fergusson Gallery website (hosted by Perth & Kinross Council).
- J.D. Fergusson at the Portland Gallery
- J.D. Fergusson at the Art Inconnu blog (lots of artworks)

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