Creative genius, war artist, adventurer, lover. These are just some of the words that can be used to describe Aberdeenshire-born painter and printmaker James McBey (1883–1959). This illegitimate son of a blacksmiths’ daughter was the acknowledged heir to Whistler and Rembrandt. But after his death in 1959, his renown as one of Britain’s most accomplished artists faded. At the heart of this biography is his time as a war artist in the Middle East during the Great War, his love affairs, marriage to a beautiful American and his enduring passion for Morocco. This biography reinstates a great 20th century artist whose respectful focus brought the Arab world into the British consciousness.
‘James McBey made his name as one of the great war artists in the Middle East: his famous painting of Lawrence of Arabia hangs in the Imperial War Museum. In this revelatory biography Alasdair Soussi brings this complex and mesmerising man to life, setting his art alongside his unrestrained private life, and giving him the literary portrait he has long deserved.’
Author of A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that shaped the Middle East
‘The story of renowned Scottish etcher James McBey has found its ideal teller. Alasdair Soussi brings to life not only McBey’s prodigious talent, but also his profound restlessness and longing – for home, for love, for peace – as the artist grew from a dour childhood in his beloved Aberdeenshire to find a final resting place in his equally beloved Tangier. Striking just the right balance between empathy and dispassionate analysis as he depicts the man and the twentieth century worlds that stimulated his art, Soussi spellbinds. I could not put the book down.’
Professor of history at the African Studies Center, Boston University, and author of Enchantment: Pictures from the Tangier American Legation Museum.
‘A wonderfully written insight to the remarkable real world of James McBey. Soussi’s amazing detective work reveals a true Scot dedicated to his art and the women who helped fuel it. Every chapter provides a previously unknown gem of information about the man who wound his way from humble beginnings in Aberdeenshire to acquiring homes on three continents, setting world record prices and comparisons with Rembrandt and Whistler along the way. I could not wait to turn the page. Having exhibited the work of McBey for over 30 years now in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, Shadows and Light is the encyclopaedia on one of Scotland’s greatest and still most underrated artists that will forever be on my desk. A must read for any Scottish Art enthusiast.’