Mer­ryn Som­er­set Webb’s Favourite Paint­ing

John Mcewen com­ments on Six But­ter­flies and a Moth on a Rose Branch

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Mer­ryn Som­er­set Webb Mer­ryn Som­er­set Webb is Ed­i­tor in Chief of Money­week and a colum­nist for The Fi­nan­cial Times

The ed­i­tor-in-chief of Money­week chooses a work that re­minds her of ‘small mo­ments of calm in a chaotic time’

‘ When I had small chil­dren, we rarely left the ground floor of the Na­tional Gallery in Scot­land. In­stead, we did the same cir­cuit ev­ery visit. In the main door. Check out an an­ces­tor of my hus­band’s on the wall to the right. Find the an­i­mals in all the paint­ings in the “Paint­ing as Spec­ta­cle” sec­tion. And then on to the lit­tle room to the back left, just be­fore head­ing for Pizza Ex­press. There, I found this pre­cise lit­tle paint­ing, which I have popped back to see reg­u­larly ever since (the chil­dren can barely be dragged to gal­leries any­more). My daugh­ter loves it, too, and when she was tiny, we spent ages mar­vel­ling over the in­tri­cacy and bright­ness of the but­ter­fly wings against the dark­ness. Years af­ter those happy out­ings, it still rep­re­sents for me the small mo­ments time’ of calm in an oth­er­wise com­pletely chaotic

Ferguson may have been born in scot­land, but, like many of his coun­try­men dur­ing the Civil War and Com­mon­wealth, he ex­iled him­self to the Con­ti­nent. His spe­cial­ity—sport­ing tro­phy pic­tures of hung dead birds—was a Dutch genre. His mas­tery has sub­se­quently led fraud­sters to add false sig­na­tures of the best Dutch masters—even the supreme Jan Weenix— to his pic­tures to raise their price.

He is ac­cepted in Hol­land as a painter of the Dutch school and his work is in the ri­jksmu­seum and other ma­jor for­eign pub­lic col­lec­tions. He was not the only scots painter of the pe­riod to find suc­cess abroad. James Hamil­ton (ger­many), Jan Col­li­son (Poland) and John Cru­den (sile­sia) are other no­table ex­am­ples.

Ferguson was recorded in utrecht in 1648–51 and, in 1660, rented a house in The Hague. In 1681, he was liv­ing in Am­s­ter­dam, where, on June 28, he mar­ried sara van someren of stock­holm. He was 48. Ac­cord­ing to Ho­race Walpole, ‘he lived long in Italy and France’, which may ex­plain some pic­tures of eerie land­scapes with Clas­si­cal ru­ins.

Two are over-doors at Ham House, Lon­don (rich­mond), once home of the Duke of Lauderdale. Lauderdale had Ham re­designed by the scots ar­chi­tect Wil­liam Bruce, thus mak­ing it the great­est scot­tish house south of the bor­der. sales of Ferguson’s work in ed­in­burgh in 1692–93 sug­gest the ‘salmon in­stinct’ may have taken him home in old age.

This de­light­ful pic­ture of a live sub­ject shows small heath, com­mon blue, meadow brown, red ad­mi­ral, small white and painted lady but­ter­flies and a large yel­low un­der­wing moth.

Six But­ter­flies and a Moth on a Rose

Branch, about 1690, by Wil­liam Gouw Ferguson (1632/33– af­ter 1695), 8in by 10in, Scot­tish Na­tional Gallery, Ed­in­burgh

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