The forgotten Scots artist who painted Lawrence of Arabia

A new exhibition tells the story of Aberdeenshire painter James McBey, who was once the toast of the art world.

One hundred years ago, Aberdeenshire painter James McBey was the toast of the art world.

He received global recognition as his etchings were compared to the likes of Dutch master Rembrant – and even painted Lawrence of Arabia.

Despite being described by experts as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, the printmaker and painter remains relatively unknown.

A new exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery, however, aims to share his extraordinary life with a wider audience.

Author and journalist Alasdair Soussi co-curated the exhibition after publishing a biography of McBey.

“His life in the 1920s was one success story after another,” said Mr Soussi. “He became so well-known, not just in Scotland and Britain, but on both sides of the Atlantic.

“He was a water colourist and oilpainter, but when it came to his etching and printmaking he was described as a genius.”

McBey’s life is told through exhibits that tell his story, from his birth in Foveran in Aberdeenshire in 1883, to his death in post-war Morocco in 1959.

“When I first came across McBey around ten years ago during my work as a journalist, I was awestruck,” said Mr Soussi.

Some of the artworks on display.STV News

“Why hadn’t I heard of this Scotsman who painted Lawrence of Arabia during his commission as Britain’s official war artist in the Middle East during the First World War? 

“With my book and accompanying exhibition I hope to reveal the man behind the remarkable art and to re-assert McBey’s place as one the 20th century’s most accomplished creative figures.”

Fellow curator Madeline Nehring hopes the exhibition will help ensure McBey’s legacy carries on long into another century.

She said: “We are really hoping to bring new people in who maybe don’t know who McBey is and haven’t heard about this remarkable character.

“When they do come in, they will wish they knew about him a lot sooner. It really reflects the wealth of material and the life which can be told through the archive and art we look after in the gallery.”

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