• "never has anyone been less dependent on the orthodox paraphernalia of this craft. never was an artist more indefatigable." - martin hardies 
  • 'Never has anyone been less dependent on the orthodox paraphernalia of this craft. Never was an artist more indefatigable.' These...

    "Never has anyone been less dependent on the orthodox paraphernalia of this craft. Never was an artist more indefatigable."


    These are the words of Martin Hardies of the art dealers Reid & Lefevre, describing James McBey’s extraordinary working process (The Print Collector's Quarterly, October 1925), as he prepared for his first solo show with The Fine Art Society in 1925.  A self taught artist and printmaker,  he understood that "Etching had one advantage; it did not necessitate the carrying about of bulky gear. I had not dared to sketch or paint out of doors...To spend time and energy on the study or practice of art was considered frivolous - the diversions of a trifler.." . His eagerness to produce is seen in his earliest etchings, which were all pulled on a mangle in the basement of the family home. Significantly, the artist did all of his printing by hand through this career and would go on to produce over 10,000 pieces. Whether in his etchnings or his watercolours, critics were quick to notice "his happiness in watery plates", and this applies directly to McBey’s views of seaside towns and ports up and down the British coast, from Felixstowe and Oare, to Johnshaven and Pennan.  It was this hunger to learn, and a sense of adventure, which drew McBey to travel throughout his life and, whilst his portraits and commissions brought him notoriety and success, it was the etchings and watercolours from his travels that would form his greatest legacy. This exhibition focuses on these exquisite etchings and watercolours, spanning the artist's long career and travels across the globe, from Scotland, to Venice and New York. 


    Artist and Model (self-portrait), 1925
    signed in pen to margin; inscribed 'Specimen proof for publ ed. MH 223' and signed Martin Hardie in pencil to sheet
    8 3/4 x 5 7/8 inches
    Sheet: 15 1/4 x 9 1/4 inches



  • James McBey, Portrait of Duncan M Macdonald, 1924

    James McBey

    Portrait of Duncan M Macdonald, 1924

    McBey  walked in the footsteps of one of his greatest influences, James McNeill Whistler, for it was Whistler's book, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, that had convinced him as a young artist to put down the paint brush and to pick up the etching plate. And so he had travelled to Venice in 1924, accompanied by his lifelong friend Duncan M. MacDonald, (a partner in Reid and Lefevre), where they took a flat in the Palazzo de Bresson overlooking the Grand Canal. It was the same year that McBey painted our portrait of MacDonald (likely executed as a gift for Macdonald’s wife).

    McBey’s etchings of Venice show the clear influence of Whistler. 'A Tartane Leaving Venice, 1925' possesses the same economy of line and deft handling of shading to effect the play of light in the image, that Whistler had employed in his Venetian etchings 50 years before.