Since 1992, Perth's Fergusson Gallery has provided a permanent home to the world's largest collection of artwork produced by the renowned Scottish artist, John Duncan Fergusson. Fergusson was one of the few British artists to participate in the Impressionist revolution in art that took place in Paris in the years before the First World War and was one of the most influential and important Scottish artists of the 20th Century.
You can read a more detailed biography of John Duncan Fergusson in the biography section of Undiscovered Scotland. Although he was born in Leith and spent most of his life in Edinburgh, Paris, London and Glasgow, Fergusson's parents came from Pitlochry and he always regarded Highland Perthshire as his spiritual home.
After his death in 1961, his lifelong partner Margaret Morris established the JD Fergusson Art Foundation to look after a large collection of his artworks, together with many letters, documents, notebooks, sketchbooks and other memorabilia. During the 1970s and 1980s many of the artworks were loaned to various Scottish galleries, but the central aim of the Foundation was to establish a permanent home for the entire collection.
The proposal that won favour was to house the collection in a gallery converted from Perth's waterworks building. The Fergusson Gallery opened on 6 March 1992 and, following a full renovation between 2003 and 2005 it will continue to make Fergusson's work available to the widest possible audience for the foreseeable future.
The Fergusson Gallery comprises three individual galleries. Two are housed in the circular main building, Gallery 1 on the ground floor with Gallery 3 above it, while the third, Gallery 2, is in a wing adjacent to the lower circular gallery.
The collection available for display in the Fergusson gallery is very large. It comprises over 5,000 artworks, including 150 oil paintings, hundreds of watercolours and drawings, and 23 sculptures. There are also around 60 sketchbooks documenting John Duncan Fergusson's artistic life, plus some 6,000 other items including photographs, letters, books, and personal items. It follows that the entire collection cannot be displayed at once, which means that the exhibitions can be changed every few months.
Some exhibitions are permanent. Gallery 1, which is also home to the reception area and shop, has on permanent display a range of Fergusson's best known and best loved paintings and sculptures under the title "Introducing Fergus & Meg". Illustrations on this page reflect the exhibitions in early 2015, when features included an exhibition themed around "Fergus Before Meg" in Gallery 3.
The building in which the Fergusson Gallery is housed is in many ways itself a work of art. One of Scotland's most important industrial monuments, it was designed by Dr Adam Anderson, the Rector of Perth Academy, and completed in 1832. Until then Perth had relied for its water on wells and on the River Tay, and the supply was neither adequate nor safe. Anderson had overseen the introduction of piped town gas to Perth in the 1820s and he was entrusted with every aspect of ensuring that its water supply was equally modern.
Anderson's waterworks building comprised a sandstone cylinder supporting a large iron water tank. Water was sourced via a filtration plant on Moncrieff Island in the River Tay, and a steam engine in the room behind the main waterworks building pumped water from the filtration plant up into the iron tank, which had a capacity of 700 tons of water. From here it was fed by gravity through 8000 yards of pipes to a series of wells located around Perth. The final cost was £13,609/11/11½. Perth at last had a supply of pure water.
It also had a remarkably beautiful building. When the waterworks was made redundant after 133 years of service in 1965, thoughts turned to finding an alternative use for it. In 1974 the building came into use as a Tourist Information Centre. When this later relocated to other premises in Perth, the waterworks once again stood empty until the idea arose of converting it into a gallery to house the Fergusson collection which, as noted earlier, opened in 1992.
The waterworks building's long term future was secured during the renovation that took place between 2003 and 2005. In a project costing £950,000, the increasingly corroded cast iron dome and rotunda were completely dismantled and restored and the remainder of the building was returned to an "as new" condition.