Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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John D. Fergusson, Dockyard, Portsmouth, 1918, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 68.5 cm, Imperial War Museum, London.

© Imperial War Museum.

© The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council, Scotland.

Total war

55 - John D. Fergusson

After the descriptive treatment, here is a pictorial working. Fergusson (1874- 1961) settled in Paris in 1905 where he was influenced by the Fauvist movement and by Cézanne. This background is in evidence here in the construction of the motif, in the use of colour and the brushstroke. The camouflaged ship's hull becomes the starting point for a set of studies in colour with shades of green, ochre and pink appearing in the white and blue. The painting of the sky and the water is no less subtle, whereas Fergusson starkly contrasts the objects in the foreground, red and brown cogs and jerrycans, with the lighter colours of the background. In this way, he obtains a rarity in the eyes of art history: a Cézannian representation of an episode taken from the Great War, fourteen years after Cézanne's death. The painting is no less effective for all that; in the background a second cargo ship can just be made out against the sky - which is precisely what camouflage is all about.