Visual Arts in Ayrshire

The Maclaurin Art Collection  ~  Early Period Purchase

William McCance  1894-1970

1.  McCance



William McCance  1894-1970

1.   William McCance 1894 - 1970  Woman Reading. Dated '1922'. Unsigned. 915 x 610mm. Oil on Canvas, (obverse  Seated Nude).
Purchased from the artist's widow. Provenance: the artist's estate. 

Exhibited Girvan 1970. Dundee 1975, Netherbow Arts Centre, Edinburgh 1983. Ayr 1983

2.   William McCance, 1894-1970 Self Portrait with initials and dated W.McC/24. Conte on paper.  410 x 350mm. 

(Auctioned by Bonhams, Edinburgh 2013)

The purchasing committed regarded McCance as a link between Scotland and the more varied practice that prevailed in London. 

As a predecessor to Colquhoun and MacBryde, his work provided a line of continuity from the innovative works of Picasso, through the Vorticist experiments of Wyndham Lewis and his contemporaries into the diversity of styles and pre-occupations of the middle years of the 20th Century.  In this respect, the Maclaurin purchasing policy echoed important themes in the collecting policies of the National Galleries in Scotland.  This particular work in the Ayrshire-based collection parallels the acquisition of the key McCance works in the national collections, notably the Portrait of Joseph Brewer (1925) that is comparable in theme and style.

The work by David Bomberg, also acquired for the collection, harks back to the Vorticist concerns of the earlier years of the century and may be regarded as part of the same historic narrative.

William McCance born the last of a family of eight in Cambuslang, in 1894. He was educated at Hamilton Academy before studying at Glasgow School of Art from 1911-5 under Fra Newbury.  McCance married a fellow student, Agnes Miller Parker (one of Britain's leading wood-engravers) in 1918, and they moved to London two years later.

In London, during the 1920's, McCance developed a machine-inspired, near abstract style, much indebted to the work of Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists. He was one of the first Scottish artists to produce abstract drawings and oil paintings in this Cubist and Vorticist manner.   Within a few years of settling in London, he had produced an astonishingly creative body of work. Oil paintings such as Conflict (1922), Mediterranean Hill Town (1925) and The Awakening (1925) established his reputation as a Modernist. He was regarded, at this time, as a symbol of the Scottish Renaissance movement – established by Hugh MacDiarmid – and favourable critical reviews followed, particularly in the London art world. These critics were much more open to European developments in art, particularly the Cubist movement of Picasso, Braque and Leger – all major influences on McCance’s early work – than was the Scottish art establishment of the time.

In the following years he was a regular contributor to magazines as both writer and illustrator. This work included contributions to C M Grieve's Scottish Nationalist Journal.

The 1930s saw McCance and and his partner, Parker – who was establishing a reputation as a wood engraver and book illustrator – moving first to the Gregynog Press in Montgomeryshire, Wales, where McCance was Controller of the Private Press. There they worked with Blair Hughes Stanton and his then wife, Gertrude Hermes, in producing luxury private printings of books, including Aesops Fables (Parker’s best known work) and The Singing Caravan (McCance producing its frontispiece and lettering).

Then, from 1933 to 1936, they settled in an Albrighton windmill, near Wolverhampton, Parker continuing with her increasingly successful printing career, with McCance working in clay fired in the local brickworks, producing sculptures featured in his later paintings.

McCance also continued to write critical reviews in the National Press, and in Picture Post, which carried his writings in defence of Epstein’s then controversial sculptures. He wrote also on matters of national political economy; in this field he, notably, expressed views of disquiet at the failure of conventional economic policy to deal with the effects, on ordinary people, of the ‘Great Depression’.

Such activities continued into the next stage of the couple’s life, in which they settled (from 1936) in Hambleton, near Henley-on- Thames. From this base, McCance secured, in 1944 (to 1960), the position of Lecturer in Typography and Book Production at Reading University, succeeding Robert Gibbings.

The marriage came to an end in 1955. Thereafter, McCance entered into a late flowering of artistic output, with a substantial body of work in a range of mediia; oils, watercolours and wax resist watercolours, linocuts, overlay drawings and sculptures. Over two hundred of these works were shown at a solo exhibition at Reading Museum and Art Gallery, marking his retirement from Reading University.

McCance, and his second wife, Margaret Chislett, then moved to Girvan, Ayrshire, where the artist died in 1970. Since then, retrospectives have been held at the Demarco Gallery (1971), in Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh (1975) and at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 1990.

[Text based on various biographical notes including material by Ian Buchanan Smith.]


This page is based on recollections by Mike Bailey and Dr Margaret McCance, and other published sources.   Mrs Mary E Maclaurin's Trust is a Registered Scottish Charity

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Maclaurin Art Collection ~ Updated March 5, 2016