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James McBey

1883 - 1959

Artist, noted for his etchings and dry point engravings. Born in Newburgh (Aberdeenshire), McBey and taught himself etching. At the age of 15 joined the North of Scotland Bank but was also able to attend evening classes at Gray's School of Art, drawing scenes in and around Aberdeen. The bank transferred him to Edinburgh for a time and was able to sketch several of that city's landmarks.

He left the bank in 1909 and travelled to the Netherlands, Spain and Morocco, creating memorable etchings of these localities. Noted for his economy of line and dramatic use of space, he was hailed as the new master of British etching after his first London exhibition in 1911.

McBey enlisted in 1916 and was soon appointed a War Artist by the British Government and sent to France. He witnessed the slaughter on the Somme, here created two of his most notable works; Spring 1917 and Francais Inconnus which delivered a poignant statement on the futility of trench-warfare, illustrated through a devastated landscape and the exhaustion of the surviving soldiers. Later in 1917 McBey was sent to join the Egypt Expeditionary Force in the Sinai Desert, an army of British and Egyptian troops, later re-inforced by Australians, Indians and New Zealanders, intent on repelling Turkish advances in Palestine. The sand-filled landscapes engendered a different, more poetic art in McBey's work and he completed some 300 watercolours during this period. He also painted portraits of King Faisal and T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia)

McBey visited America in 1929 and met his wife, Marguerite Loeb, in Philadelphia. They married in 1930 and settled in North Africa, with homes in Tangier and Marrakesh. The couple moved to the USA during World War II but returned to Tangier in 1946.

His best work depicts the North African desert, water scenes and cities such as Venice and Rotterdam.

McBey died in Tangier. His widow contributed generously to Aberdeen Art Gallery, which saw the opening of the James McBey Print Room and Art Library in 1961. Later she left the gallery a substantial bequest including a large collection of his work.

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