My favourite painting: Carmel Allen

Carmel Allen, managing director of Tate, chooses an unforgettable image from one of the Scottish Colourists.

Carmel Allen on ‘Blue Beads, Paris’ by John Duncan Fergusson

‘When my daughter was a little girl, we spent many a rainy Saturday morning wandering around Tate Britain. More often than not, she was more interested in the smooth marble floor than the art on the walls, but, on one occasion, she stopped in her tracks, looked up at this painting and said: “She has green skin, Mummy.”

‘I was completely captivated by the subject. Her red lips really are utterly fabulous and her dark “come-to-bed-with-me” eyes immediately transport you to a smoky bar in Paris.

‘I love it when a painting takes me somewhere; my mind can be in overdrive, but one look at Blue Beads and I am living a glamorous, louche existence on the rive Gauche, applying red lipstick, adjusting my hat and planning a night at the Moulin Rouge. Visual escapism at its best.’

Carmel Allen is the managing director of Tate

Charlotte Mullins comments on Blue Beads

John Duncan Fergusson is now known as one of the Scottish Colourists, a quartet of male painters who were drawn to Paris and its exciting avant-garde art scene at the turn of the 20th century. He was a charismatic and passionate artist who gave up training to be a doctor to teach himself how to paint.

He was initially influenced by the Glasgow Boys and their Impressionistic landscapes, but, after summers in northern France and a relocation to Paris in 1907, his work began to change. He threw away his white paint, gave up blending his colours and worked directly from the tube, echoing the Fauves. This group, which included Henri Matisse and André Derain, was dubbed the Fauves or ‘wild beasts’ by the critic Louis Vauxcelles in 1905 and Fergusson exhibited with them at the breakaway Salon d’Automne, where he became a member in 1909.

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The year 1910 was pivotal for the artist, as he began to employ professional models, ultimately creating a series of startling nudes. Blue Beads, Paris dates from this year and is a painting of an unknown woman. Perhaps he sketched her in the Cirque Medrano or the Gaîeté Montparnasse, clubs he often frequented.

The garish light turns her face sickly green and infuses this painting with a decadent nightclub feel; her déshabillé is emphasised by her bold red lips and the string of blue beads circling her throat.

Fergusson remained in France until the First World War broke out, when he returned to Britain and took a studio in London.