The Skilled Astronomer

James Ferguson (1710-1776)


James Ferguson (1710-1776) 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 for 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 meet 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 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 was enabled to study anatomy, surgery and physics but ultimately it was his love of astronomy that was to dominate his life and career.

This portrait is a fine example of Ferguson’s work and shows a smartly dressed boy in a collarless coat with large buttons and deep cuffs worn over a patterned (probably embroidered silk) waistcoat, and a shirt with a ruff collar fastened with a ribbon bow. Oddly for such a young boy, it appears he may be wearing a wig with stiff curls.

Painted in Indian ink on vellum and housed in the original turned fruitwood frame.

Item Ref. 6726

Size: framed, 88 x 74mm