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Vincent Ferguson and Irish Art
Vincent Ferguson was a talented businessman who pursued a busy, exceptionally successful career, but there is no doubt that art was his passion - not just collecting art, but the works of art themselves, which he loved with extraordinary ardour. If he invited you to have a look at his latest acquisitions - it was usually plural - there was an especial liveliness about him, almost a giddiness. He would look at you looking, just to make sure that the magic was transmitting itself to you, too. He admired and respected artists because he felt they were, really, magicians, albeit vulnerable magicians, who often needed a little more care, more nurturing, than the rest of us.
Vincent rarely bought just a single piece by an artist. Each piece was, for him, a point of entry to an evolving creative vision, and he wanted to encourage and in a real sense share in that process. Over time, he and Noeleen built up holdings, remarkable in their sheer depth, of the work of dozens of individual artists. Until the establishment of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in 1991, public institutions in Ireland were quite limited in their acquisitions of contemporary Irish Art. This meant that a handful of committed collectors, Vincent and Noeleen prime among them, played a vital role in ensuring that significant work of the time was valued and preserved - in 1997 they donated thirty works to IMMA, substantially boosting the strength of the museum's collection.
Vincent was particularly taken with painting, and his and Noeleen's collection comprises an exceptional treasure trove of Irish painting from the mid to late 20th century, incorporating dozens of definitive works by a sizeable proportion of the most important talents of the time. They include Basil Blackshaw, Patrick Collins, Tony O'Malley, Barrie Cooke, Charles Brady, David Crone, T.P. Flanagan, Anne Madden, Patrick Hall, Neil Shawcross, Camille Souter and Sean McSweeney as well as a younger generation including Eithne Jordan, Kathy Prendergast, Brian Maguire, Clement McAleer, Elizabeth Magill, Michael Mulcahy, Cecily Brennan and Felim Egan.
In a minority of cases the painters were linked in one way or another to Vincent's native County Sligo. Like Jack B. Yeats, for example, Patrick Collins drew a lifetime's inspiration from the childhood years he spent in Sligo. Vincent's selection of Collins' work is probably the finest ever assembled by a private collector (equally, the range of Blackshaws acquired over many years is superlative). Flanagan painted Lissadel in Sligo and his work in general recalls the watery light of Sligo. Both McSweeney and Cooke have strong links with Sligo, and currently live there.
It's striking that all of the painters in the collection have developed enthusiastic followings, often after the initial stages of the Fergusons' patronage. Vincent was never swayed by fashionable opinion. He trusted his own instinct and followed where it led him. An early adaptor, he responded to Collins' 'cut-out' canvases while other observers were still perplexed. He spotted Prendergast's remarkable quality right at the beginning. He instantly recognized iconic pieces by Cooke and Blackshaw. The result was a collection combining quality and depth, reflective of a genuine and generous spirit.
Aidan Dunne, 2009.