John Duncan Fergusson, Dieppe, 14 July 1905: Night (detail), 1905, Oil on canvas, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; purchased 1978, GMA 1713, © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, Scotland
Fergusson was born in Leith to parents who came from Perthshire and spoke Gaelic. His professional career began in 1897 when he started sending work to the annual exhibitions of the Royal Glasgow Institute. His life-long friendship with Samuel John Peploe dates from about 1900 and in 1904 they began to paint together in France each summer, in places including Paris-Plage, Dieppe and Berneval. Fergusson combined working in a studio with more informal sketching and painting whilst outdoors. He became a familiar figure in Princes Street Gardens, using oil paint to capture scenes quickly on small panels. His early landscapes reveal a familiarity with the French Impressionists, Eugène Boudin and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.
Fergusson and Peploe's shared interest in the French nineteenth-century artist Edouard Manet, as well as seventeenth-century Dutch and Spanish Old Masters, is most obvious in the exquisite still lifes and portraits of male sitters which Fergusson made during this period. However, it was in depictions of elegant women that Fergusson excelled, especially those of Jean Maconochie, his partner from about 1902. Fergusson's first solo exhibition was held at the Baillie Gallery, London in 1905. In the catalogue he declared that he was ‘trying for truth, for reality; through light'.