Scotland, Aberdeen. Aberdeen’s War, continued
At the Aberdeen Art Gallery, in a separate room is another part to the exhibition featuring James McBey War Artist, 1883-1959. He was a self-taught artist, born and raised in Aberdeenshire. In 1917 his artistic contribution to the war effort was recognized when he was recommended for appointment as Official War Artist in France and with the British Expeditionary Force in the Middle East, including 5 days with the Australian Camel Corps in the Sinai Desert.
The artist’s wartime prints include a great collection that evokes the devastation he witnessed in France, on the Western Front. Some famous sketches are “The Sussex” a torpedoed passenger ship beached of Boulogne, and “France at her Furnaces”, workers at the Schneider munitions works at Harfleur. Later came “Spring 1917”, spare but powerful. The capture of Trone Wood was a difficult and costly action that took place in July 1916. McBey visited the scene in early spring the following year, and he shows the aftermath of the battle with broken trees and a land devoid of life (see below).
He produced hundreds of drawings in pen, ink and watercolor, also recording the campaign in Palestine and Sinai. Notable are many wonderful sketches of camels. This great collection illustrates military and civilian aspects of the war and sheds some light on a theatre of conflict that is often overlooked in pubic commemorations of WW1.
McBey painted portraits of two of the protagonists of the Egyptian campaign, Emir Faisal and T. E. Lawrence—we see McBey’s preparatory sketches, as the originals are in the Imperial War Museum in London, as are many of his other official war sketches. What fun to see what Lawrence of Arabia actually looked like—not just what we imagine from the movie of the same name! In one panel of portraits is also a sketch of George Langley, the Australian commander of the Sinai Camel Corps (see below, for the 3 men).
Some of these images were later translated into etchings and they are on display in the McBey Room in the museum along with sketchbooks and original photographs, bequeathed by his widow, Marguerite.
McBey’s photographs also documented the war—this talented man captured the war with this other medium too. The black-and-white photos are in albums, with a slideshow presentation just above them.
McBey was unknown to us so, this exhibit was a real bonus, as he was obviously very talented, adding to the understanding of the war experience. He later became an artist of international renown, painting in Morocco, southern France and other warm places! His widow, Marguerite, donated much of his collected life works to the Aberdeen Art Gallery.