Zero: A Sixty-Five Pounder Opening Fire. 1920.
Framed (ref: 6073)
Signed in ink and Inscribed Trial Proof V
Drypoint, printed on Whatman 1794 laid paper
8 1/4 x 11 3/4 (21 x 30.2 cm)
This drypoint was issued in an edition of 76 with 7 Trial proofs, of which this is no 5.
Zero is listed as catalogue number 201 in Hardie's, James McBey Catalogue Raisonne, 1902 - 1924, (London, 1925) where is is described as follows:
One of the guns near Jelil is opening fire at the 'zero' hour before dawn in the surprise bombardment on the morning of September 19th, 1918. The gun is in the foreground to left, silhouetted against the flash of light. On the extreme left are two men, one of whom holds his hand to his ears.
According to Michael Campbell:
Zero is the most dramatic of all of James McBey’s great wartime prints. The image shows one of the guns near Jelil opening fire at the ‘zero’ hour before dawn in the surprise bombardment on the morning of September 19th, 1918. Martin Hardie considered this to be “the outstanding plate” of the Second Palestine Set.
James McBey had accompanied the Australian Camel Patrol, as an Official War Artist, from the Suez Canal across the Desert of Sinai during the desert war campaign of 1917-18. He had witnessed the surrender of Jerusalem to the allied forces and by the date of this image was with the troops of the 7th Division advancing upon the Turkish positions at Jelil. This brilliant drypoint, like all of James McBey’s wartime prints, was worked up from on-the-spot sketches after the war was over.
At the time of their release, James McBey’s desert war etchings were considered to be the greatest of all of his works, a single impression of his etching Dawn, The Camel Patrol Setting Out, realising the highest price ever attained for a living etcher’s work in this country when it sold for £440 at auction in the late 1920’s. Zero eclipses even that great work in its stunning immediacy and dramatic realism.
We are grateful to Michael Campbell for assistance.
James McBey (1883 - 1959)
James McBey's parents were Scottish peasants. Abandoned by his father, he was raised by his mother and her family in abject poverty, in the harsh, bleak countryside of Buchan, close to the north sea coast line. At the age of fifteen he gained employment with a bank in Aberdeen and from then on supported himself, his mother, and grandmother until his mother’s suicide in 1906. With no remaining family ties, James McBey now embarked upon a career as a professional artist – a career which was to propel him far from his humble origins to great financial success and international fame.
Self-taught as an etcher, James McBey is widely regarded as the leading figure of the British Etching Revival. His work dominated British etching during the early part of the 20th century and the popularity of his prints was without parallel. A single impression of his etching Dawn, The Camel Patrol Setting Out, realised the highest price ever attained for a living etcher’s work in this country when it sold for £445 at auction in 1928. In 1931 James McBey married the American heiress Marguerite Loeb. James Mcbey is often cited as being the most commercially successful Scottish artist between the two World Wars.
See all works by James McBey