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Commemorative Plaques Record Details

James McBey (1883 - 1959)

Picture of the Palque

Location : 42 Union Grove

Area : Central Aberdeen

Plaque Type : Yellow

About James McBey : Artist. Born in 1883 in Foveran, Aberdeenshire. He left school at the age of 15 and entered service in the North of Scotland Bank. At age 27 he left the bank in order to make a proper living from his art. In 1916 he was appointed to a position in the Army Printing and Stationery Department. He later became an official War Artist. In 1929 he met his future wife Marguerite Loeb in America. They purchased property in Tangier in 1932. He is remembered mainly as an artist of the Middle East although his work covers many areas. He died on 1 December 1959 and was survived by his wife, an artist in her own right, who died in October 1999.

More Information : James was born at Foveran, near Newburgh in 1883. In his early years he lived with this mother and grandparents in nearby Newmill. At the age of five, in 1888, after the death of his grandfather, who had been the local smith, the family moved to Newburgh. At the age of 15, in 1898, James left school, having already displayed some artistic talent, but through financial necessity he entered the service of the North of Scotland Bank. During his training and five years at the Bank in Aberdeen he began to produce etchings. With no available printing press he pulled the first of these through on his mother's laundry mangle. James left the service of the Bank at age 27, in 1910, having decided that he wanted to become a professional artist. He travelled in Holland and from 1913 had a studio in London, where he was successful from the start, principally through making sets of etchings (at that time highly popular). In 1916 he was conscripted and assigned to duty as a subaltern in the Army Printing and Stationery Department, based at Rouen and Le Havre. During that time, whilst on leave, he visited the Somme to sketch the desolation he found there. After a year of duty in France, Campbell Dodgson, then Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, recommended him to the position of Official War Artist. In this capacity he joined to the British expeditionary force in Egypt. During this time he painted portraits of King Feisal and Lawrence of Arabia, who sat for him in Damascus, in October 1918. The portrait now hangs in the Imperial War Museum. Having completed his service he travelled in Holland, Belgium and Italy. From 1929 he began to travel to America where he met his future wife, Marguerite Loeb, of Philadelphia. It was through her love of the sun, and associated dislike of London in winter, that James bought, in 1932, a property in Tangier, moving later to Marrakech. They were in the United States at the outbreak of the Second World War and were unable to return to Europe or North Africa and so travelled extensively through the US. During this period James continued to paint in both oil and watercolour as well as making etchings and painting many commissioned portraits. Aside from his painting and etching he had a keen and lively mind. He was interested in the production of violins and was keen to reproduce the sort of violin produced by Stradivarius. The technique used by Stradivarius being lost to history: of the violins produced by James few violinists who tried them were enthusiastic. It was not until May 1946 that they were able to return to Tangier, now their principal home. By this time there were problems between James and his wife. In 1947 he travelled to Scotland where amongst other things he sketched Catterline. In 1948 Marguerite left James for her lover although this did not work out: her lover realised that she was still deeply devoted to James. Marguerite and James lived together for the remainder of James' life: he died of pneumonia, after a brain haemorrhage on 1 December 1959 in Morocco. After his death Marguerite funded the James McBey Print Room and Library at Aberdeen Art Gallery in which is stored the artist's books and the largest collection of his work in the world, including drawings, paintings and virtually the entire series of the prints that he produced over the course of his lifetime. Marguerite died in London in October 1999.