Digital Commonwealth

James McBey (1883-1959). Prints and Drawings

Boston Public Library

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James McBey (1883-1959) was a Scottish painter and etcher. Born in Newburgh, Aberdeenshire, he left school at age 15 to work as a bank clerk while attending evening classes at Gray’s School of Art and teaching himself how to etch.

In 1910, McBey decided to pursue a full-time career as an artist and began to travel in Europe and North Africa. He developed his skills as an etcher and in 1911 and held his first exhibition at the Goupil Gallery in London. In 1916, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Printing & Stationery Service and then appointed an official war artist to the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. During 1917-1918, he traveled with the Allied troops across Palestine, recording images that provided subjects for his later etchings. In 1929, McBey visited the United States for the first time and, in 1931, married Marguerite Loeb, an American photographer and bookbinder. In 1932, the McBeys purchased a house near Tangier, Morocco and, after that, divided their time between Tangier, London, New York, and Philadelphia. Although he spent his World War II years in New York, becoming a United States citizen in 1942, McBey’s true love was Morocco. Many of his later drawings and watercolors recorded its life and landscape.

Albert H. Wiggin assembled this extensive collection of prints and drawings by McBey and gave it to the Boston Public Library in 1941 as part of his private collection of prints and drawings. The collection is supplemented by additional purchases made by Wiggin and by gifts from the artist and his widow. In 1962, with the help of Mrs. McBey, the Library held the exhibition James McBey: A Portrait of the Artist; that exhibition was revived in 1983 in celebration of the centennial of McBey’s birth. In 1985, again with Mrs. McBey’s help, the Library followed that exhibition with the publication of the monograph James McBey: A Portrait of the Artist.
 

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