The Artistic Astronomer

James Ferguson (1710-1776)


James Ferguson was born into a poor Scottish family. With the help of his father and a neighbouring old woman, he taught himself to read and write. As he grew up he developed a love for astronomy and mechanics and was engaged to several masters, some of them encouraging but others treating him cruelly. In 1733 Ferguson was engaged by Sir James Dunbar to clean his clocks and, whilst at his house, met Lady Dipple who asked him to draw needlework patterns for her and her friends. The following year Lady Dipple invited him to stay at her house in Edinburgh where he met Lady Jane Douglas whose portrait he drew several times. Lady Jane sent these portraits to her friends with a recommendation and suddenly Ferguson had a viable business which he was to follow for the next 26 years. Once financially secure, he studied anatomy, surgery and physics but ultimately it was his love of astronomy that was to dominate his life and career. He published several books on astronomy from 1745 onwards.

This portrait is a fine example of Ferguson’s neat work and shows a young girl in a décolleté dress edged with lace and with a pointed waistline, a style that dates the portrait to around 1740-1750. Her hair sits in natural curls and is topped with a round cap decorated with a few sprigs of flowers.

Painted in Indian ink on vellum and housed in the original turned fruitwood frame. The hanger has been replaced.

Item Ref. 7057

Size: framed, 79 x 69mm

Provenance: Private Scottish Collection