Damaged Destroyer by John Duncan Fergusson at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland

In this episode, we’ll be taking a closer look at the 1918 oil on canvas painting; Damaged Destroyer by John Duncan Fergusson at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland. Welcome to Art, Culture & Books with me, Anthony King.

The vibrant and impactful artwork “Damaged Destroyer” painted in 1918 by J.D. Fergusson, a Scottish artist and sculptor (9 March 1874 – 30 January 1961), stands as a testament to his prominence within the Scottish Colourists school of painting. Fergusson, born in Leith, was largely self-taught and made a significant impact by immersing himself in the latest trends of French painting after relocating to Paris in 1907 after Fergusson took his first trip to Paris to study at the Louvre in 1898. Unlike his Scottish contemporaries, he absorbed and evolved with French artistic developments. With that said this an interpretation of a Vorticist painting which you might not have heard of before. The Vorticists, an avant-garde collective established in London in 1914, sought to craft art that captured the dynamic essence of the contemporary world.

He spent six years in Paris and moved there almost without a penny and without knowing anybody. In 1913, Fergusson encountered the pioneering dancer Margaret Morris, who would become his lifelong partner. Her innovative techniques, students, summer schools, and Morris herself became primary sources of inspiration for Fergusson’s artistic endeavours until his passing in Glasgow in 1961. The Scottish Colourists, comprising Samuel John Peploe, Francis Cadell, G.L. Hunter, and John Duncan Fergusson, were a group of avant-garde artists who injected fresh vibrancy into the Scottish art scene with their use of French Fauvist colours. Despite the name suggesting a close-knit collaboration in Scotland, they were not a tightly associated group with specific objectives. They only exhibited together on three occasions while they were alive. The association of these artists under the term “Scottish Colourists” happened in 1950, initially by art historian T.J. Honeyman in his book “Three Scottish Colourists.” The group expanded to include Fergusson in the 1980s. While each Scottish Colourist gained recognition during their lifetimes, they fell out of favour by the Second World War, only to be fully rediscovered in the 1950s. By the 1980s, they were widely acknowledged for their contributions to Scottish art, blending elements of Scottish heritage and the Glasgow School style with the avant-garde trends of Paris. This revitalization brought new life to Scottish art, paving the way for the succeeding generation of artists. At the onset of World War I, Fergusson was recognized as a leading figure in contemporary British painting. Throughout the war years, however, his artistic output was notably limited, and it was only as the war approached its conclusion that he began to regain creative momentum in his work.

The Damaged Destroyer gallery label which was given by the Friends of Glasgow Museums in memory of Andrew McLaren Young, 1976 tells us:

“Fergusson was passionate about colour and boats. During WWI he was given permission by the War Office to paint the naval dockyards in Portsmouth. Although the ship is damaged, Fergusson’s simplified shapes and bold colouring give a sense of solidity and structure. The bright blue of the sky radiates strength and hope.”

Today, Portsmouth Naval Base, officially designated as His Majesty’s Naval Base, Portsmouth (HMNB Portsmouth), stands as one of the three active bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy, alongside HMNB Clyde and HMNB Devonport. Situated in the south of England, north of the Isle of Wight, this naval base is integral to the city of Portsmouth. Historically, it was formally referred to as HM Dockyard, Portsmouth for centuries. The site was built in 1194. John Duncan Fergusson is probably most known for his figure studies but this landscapes colour is so impactful for me. Damaged Destroyer was based on sketches that he made in Portsmouth towards the end of World War One.

A word about this amazing museum though!

Located in Glasgow, Scotland, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is a renowned institution in Kelvingrove Park in the city’s West End. It is a favoured destination for visitors, known for its diverse collection covering natural history, Egyptian antiquities, design, architecture, medieval arms and armour, Scottish history, and the history of Glasgow. Established in 1901, it stands as one of Scotland’s premier museums, offering free admission. It’s one of the best museums I’ve ever been to, without a doubt.

By Anthony King (c)