Souvenir de Saintonge inscribed, signed and dated 'SOUVENIR DE/SAINTONGE/J.D. FERGUSSON/1916' (verso) oil on board 34.8 x 27 cm. (13 3/4 x 10 5/8 in.)
PROVENANCE: Margaret Morris Private Collection
EXHIBITED: London, Connell Gallery, Paintings and Sculpture by JD Fergusson, May 1918, cat.no.7 Edinburgh and touring, Scottish Arts Council, JD Fergusson Memorial Exhibition, November 1961-June 1962, cat.no.78
Fergusson visited Royan, on the west coast of France, and the surrounding region of Saintonge between 1909-11, often in the company of Peploe and Anne Estelle Rice. They were particularly inspired by the harbour and countryside, and these key trips herald the introduction of more vivid, and primary, colour to Fergusson's palette. His compositions also become more structured, using simplified form and geometry to greater effect.
In Paris during this period Fergusson also introduced his signature theme of the nude, in part reflecting his status as the most 'bohemian' of the Colourists. His familiarity with the cafes, studios and Salons of Paris make this an unsurprising development, particularly in light of his admiration for the Fauves. Key pictures like At My Studio Window (Fergusson Museum, Perth) and Rhythm (University of Stirling), both of 1910, show him depicting nudes in studio settings yet on a monumental scale, the former with decorative foliage and drapery and the latter with studio props and an exotic fabric backdrop.
These are modern and ambitious statements (Rhythm was exhibited at the Salon d'Automne in 1911), with the women consciously stylised, muscular and tending toward the sculptural. The former in particular has forbidding, mask-like features, which may reflect the lingering fashion in Paris for African art and costume. This proves an interesting comparison with Cadell's salon pictures, where the elegant models are less 'portraits' than stylish, anonymous motifs with indistinct or stylised features.
Fergusson returned to London with the outbreak of War in 1914 and this succinct, almost tender little picture seems a eulogy to his lost life in France, and the memory of a relationship. The nude is a particularly successful rendering of his favourite subject, an easy balance of observation and stylised form, while the remarkable sparkling foliage and bright, pure colour underpinned by the plane of wall and arch are particularly arresting. In many senses it is archetypal Fergusson, a link between his early development in France and the middle period of his career, where he began to rework key themes and gain a higher profile.