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 lady wearing a long-sleeved dress with a lace-trimmed fichu secured with a ribbon bow. Her cap is edged with lace and tied under her chin with dark ribbon. But the most honest detail is the inclusion of a small wart on the lady’s chin!

Painted in Indian ink on vellum and housed in the original turned wood frame, the only small (but easily remedied) flaw is the absence of a hanging ring.

Item Ref. 6701

Size: framed, 84 x 68mm (3⅜ x 2⅝")

Provenance: Woolaston Family