LES EUS by JD Fergusson (1911)
Les Eus is one of the most exuberantly joyful paintings in the Scottish repertoire. Six life-size nude figures caught in a bacchanalian dance burst through the canvas. Not the first nude to hit Scotland, but certainly the boldest – men and women dancing together, naked! Ripe and rounded, the dancers glow with health and vitality. Paint is spread thickly like warm butter. Breasts and buttocks are soft and sensual. Feet curl like Moroccan slippers. This is a fullblooded fertility dance set in an idyll of joy and fecundity.
Fergusson was in Paris where Isadora Duncan extolled dance’s liberating qualities and Josephine Baker strutted her stuff – nothing more than a mini-skirt of bananas between her and the censors. Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe was attended by the riot squad.
Artists were trying to express the fragmentary nature of the world of experience: think of cubism. Fergusson, who frequented left bank cafes, describes “marble tables scrawled with Euclidian diagrams [that] explained everything from the price of eggs to Bergsonian theory”. Les Eus is a visual representation of the elan vital that lay at the heart of Bergson’s complex philosophy.
The context through which the impressionable Fergusson moved was rich. Picasso’s much derided Les Demoiselles languished in his studio. Fergusson knew Picasso and visited that studio. He was familiar with Derain and van Dongen. Matisse’s Dance demonstrated an even more maniacal frenzy. Not since the potters moulded their wares in ancient Greece have naked young men and women danced so freely together. Isadora Duncan’s models were those Greek vases. In art as in life, what goes around comes around.