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Perth Art Gallery unveil new galleries dedicated to the work of J D Fergusson and Margaret Morris

By Jen McLaren, 02.04.2024
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Fergusson and Morris Gallery Install, image courtesy of Sally Jubb

A new permanent display has opened at Perth Art Gallery celebrating the life and creative partnership of the Scottish Colourist, John Duncan Fergusson, and his wife, Margaret Morris, the pioneering dancer.

The unveiling of the new exhibition space also coincides with the 150th anniversary of Fergusson’s birth. The collection of his works and archive was given to Perth & Kinross Council by the J. D. Fergusson Art Foundation, established by Margaret Morris in 1963. In 2010, the Margaret Morris Collection was gifted by the International Association of Margaret Morris Movement. These collections are now looked after by charitable trust Culture Perth and Kinross.
Originally housed in The Fergusson Gallery, which opened in 1992 on the city’s Marshall Place, this gallery closed in October 2022 in anticipation of a major project which has seen the former city hall in King Edward Street transformed into Perth Museum, while the previous museum and art gallery on George Street is now Perth Art Gallery.

The £27m museum project was completed at the end of March and houses the Stone of Destiny as well as Recognised Collections of National Significance and temporary exhibition, Unicorn, which runs until September 22.

Thanks to displays being moved to the new museum, this has made way for the exhibition of the Fergusson and Morris collections, which consist of over 100 oil paintings as well works on paper, water colours, photographs, costumes and archival material. 

Entitled Ferg & Meg: A Creative Partnership, the exhibit follows them from their early years on to Paris, London, the Scottish Highlands and Glasgow, where they finally settled in 1939.
Currently there are more than 40 paintings, drawings, and watercolours on display as well as costumes, personal belongings, photographs and video footage. 

Collections officer Amy Fairley says the team is delighted to bring the work of this creative couple to a wider audience, demonstrating the important role Fergusson played as an internationally recognised modern artist. “We decided to break it down into five sections, starting with his early years, and each was given a colour,” she explains. 

Fergusson and Morris Gallery Install, image courtesy of Sally Jubb

Working with design agency Hara Clark to develop the space, the vibrant colours were inspired by those found in Fergusson’s paintings. The exhibition received funding from the J. D. Fergusson Art Foundation, which was keen to highlight the collection’s move to its new location.

The former Fergusson Gallery building is being used to store parts of the collection and there is also a research room that can be used to access archival material. The bronze Fergusson sculpture outside – ‘Torse de Femme’ (1918) – will remain there as a nod to the Category A listed building’s heritage, having originally been a waterworks tower before its conversion into a gallery.

Amy explains: “With the opening of Perth Museum, we couldn’t justify having three galleries. We looked into accessibility and the fact The Fergusson Gallery was a listed building meant that trying to install a lift would be incredibly expensive.” She adds: “We wanted to have a space that was inclusive and allowed people to visit.”

The building’s metal roof also meant environmental conditions were challenging, as the upstairs gallery became very hot in summer. Now that the displays have moved, Amy hopes there may be more scope to borrow for temporary exhibitions.

She goes on: “The environmental conditions here are far more stable and easy to control so it will hopefully allow us to bring in some big name loans. For example, for a previous exhibition, we had a Derain and a Matisse.”

Self Portrait: the Grey Hat, JD Fergusson, 1909, Image courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross

Some of the highlights of the exhibition include ‘Self Portrait: The Grey Hat’ (1909) which is one of the first works to greet visitors to the space. Fergusson would have been in his mid-30s at the time and it is a dark, roughly-executed piece inspired by the work of the Fauvist artists he would have known in Paris.

Danu Mother of the Gods (Margaret Morris), JD Fergusson, 1952, image courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross

Painted that same year, ‘Le Manteau Chinois’ (1909) is a full-length portrait of Anne Estelle Rice, who featured in a number of his earlier works while they were in a relationship together. Highly decorative, this work pinpoints a time before his models began to resemble statuesque deities. 
Another full-length portrait is ‘Danu, Mother of the Gods’ (1952) this time showing Margaret Morris wearing a dress she had designed for one of her dance performances. Danu is the Celtic mother of the gods and the couple were passionate about the revival of Celtic culture, something that became a key theme in Fergusson’s work. Danu strides forward, the land at her back, clothed in vibrantly-coloured robes.


Le manteau chinois (Anne Estelle Rice, 1877–1959, Artist), JD Fergusson, 1909, Image courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross

Brass bust ‘Eástre – Hymn to the Sun’ (1924) is always a treat to see up close. Inspired by Margaret, it is a simplistic and striking piece that celebrates the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. Its new position within the bold gallery space – alongside its fellow artworks – signals a triumphant reawakening for these collections.

Admission to Perth Art Gallery is free and donations are welcome.