STEWART, Robert after John TOWNSEND
James Ferguson F:R:S
London: Printed for Robert Stewart, No. 15 Millman street, Bedford Row, Dec. 7, 1776. Mezzotint. State ii/ii, with engraved inscription. In excellent condition with the exception of being trimmed on the plate mark. Image slightly rubbed in places. Image size: 13 x 10 inches. Sheet size: 14 x 10 inches.
A rich impression of this outstanding portrait of James Ferguson, the astronomer whose writings made the complex world of scientific theory available to the general public.
James Ferguson was one of the popularisers of science, and a talented inventor and astronomer. Born in Scotland to a shepherd in 1710, Ferguson left Scotland for London in 1743. He worked in several different professions before being able to dedicate himself to scientific study; he was a shepherd, a milliner, a farmer, and a portrait painter. During the twenty-six years that Ferguson worked drawing portraits, he religiously followed his scientific studies and inventions. In 1748, he was able to dedicate himself to a career as writer and lecturer, and at these he was wildly successful. The key to this success lay in his clarity; he brought complex theories to the layman in understandable writing and impassioned lectures. Following his aim, Ferguson invented remarkable machines and didactic mechanisms with which to demonstrate basic Newtonian principles. His most admired work, entitled 'Astronomy explained on Sir Isaac Newton's Principles' was so much in demand that it remained in print for over fifty-five years.
Ferguson was one of the first writers to bring astronomy to a public thirsty for knowledge, his passion inspired generations of amateur scientists and his inventions helped people conceptualize astronomical motion. For example, his orrery of 1750 demonstrated the path of the Earth around the Sun, and the Moon around the Earth, showing both the elliptical path of the Moon and how the Earth's axial rotation creates the seasons.
In Townsend's distinguished portrait, Ferguson is shown holding a celestial globe, the tool of his trade and a symbol of his academic accomplishments. (DNB)
Chaloner Smith, British Mezzotinto Portraits 5 state not described; Russell, English Mezzotint Portraits, and their States iii/iii O'Donoghue, Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits... in the British Museum 2, Lennox-Boyd & Stogdon state ii/iii.