JAMES MCBEY (1883-1959)
The Somme Front

The Somme Front
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JAMES MCBEY (1883-1959)
The Somme Front

1917 British
Height17.00 cm
6.69 inches
Width36.80 cm
14.49 inches
The Somme Front
Hardie 174
Original drypoint, 1917. The plate signed and dated. Published state.
Signed in ink and numbered XLVII. From the British edition of 50 (the total edition was 76, plus two proofs for the Censor). A fine impression, rich in burr, on cream laid paper watermarked ‘Elgar 1802’. A little time-toned, the odd minute surface defect.

The shell-hole, full of water and the tree stumps, mark what was the village of Combles. Two heavy guns on the skyline at the left have camouflage netting over them.

Three subjects drawn in February 1917, in the aftermath of the Somme Offensive, when McBey was still on active service and before he was appointed an official war artist.
(All three plates were passed by the Censor on 30 April 1917; the proofs stamped to this effect are held in the Victoria & Albert Museum .)
Fought on both sides of the River Somme from July to November 1916, though Haig continued to order attacks well into 1917, the Battle of the Somme penetrated six miles into German-held territory, at the cost of a million wounded or killed and a devastated landscape. McBey went right across the battle areas from Albert via Fribourg and Trônes Wood to Combles.
McBey had been called up in 1916 and Martin Hardie in the Introduction to his catalogue of McBey’s etchings describes meeting the artist in Boulogne, where both were at Base Offices, and how they “plotted how we should circumvent the vigilance that then prohibited all sketching.”
Later in 1916 McBey had been moved to Rouen and there in 1917 he obtained permission to spend his leave in drawing at the front. “There, although living like a rat in a cellar, and thwarted by rain, mud and difficulties of transport, he found the material for five plates” (these included The Somme Front; Spring 1917; and Albert) “- etchings that will have lasting value as records of our Western Front and of all the grim tragedy of war. They show us the devastation of the great howitzers


Hardie 174


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