Saturday, April 30, 2016

On The Road To Mandalay: The Burmese Etchings of E.G. MacColl

When it comes to Western artists depicting Asian subject matter in their prints, there's no doubt that scenes of Northeast Asia, followed by those of the Indian subcontinent, tend to predominate.  That's not to say that prints of Southeast Asian scenes don't exist, but they tend to illustrate a handful of places that such artists briefly passed through during their travels between India and/or Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and either China or Japan.  They are exceptions, of course.  Lucille Douglass produced a series of etchings devoted to Cambodia's Angor Wat, well as various other places in Thailand, Vietnam, and Java.  Paul Jacoulet spent considerable time in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Phillippines, which is reflected in his woodblock prints.  But other than occasionally depicting largely token views of Rangoon and Mandalay, most artists' prints tend to overlook the Burmese people and its countryside altogether.

 E.G. MacColl (c. 1914-1918)
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

There is, however, at least one artist whose entire print output appears to have been devoted exclusively to Burma (known today as Myanmar), an Anglo-Burmese artist named E.G. MacColl (1896-1973).  Information about MacColl has been exceeding hard to locate.  For the longest time, I assumed that he was a British soldier who was stationed in Burma during WWII.  Efforts to find soldiers who may have served with MacColl in Burma and who remembered him were unsuccessful.   However, I was eventually able to make contact through an on-line RAF bulletin board with MacColl's grandneice, Alison Denmark, who was coincidentally researching her own family tree.

Postcard (1915) by E.G. MacColl
Courtesy of Alistair Maconchy

I was able to learn from Alison that MacColl's full name was Eric Gordon MacColl.  He was born in Maymyo, Burma, the son of Hugh Ernest MacColl, a Judge of the High Court of Judicature at Rangoon and the Burmese Princess Ma Phyu.  His grandfather was the Scottish mathematician, logician, and novelist Hugh MacColl.  E.G. MacColl had 11 brothers and sisters, including Alexander Malcolm MacColl, a member of the Burma Imperial Police and an Assistant to the Deputy Inspector General of Railways at Rangoon. and Hugh Herbert MacColl, a district forestry officer in Burma.  During WWI, he was an acting corporal in the British Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), where he won the British War Medal and Victory Medal.

 Portraits of Karen, Shan, and Padaung by E.G. MacColl
Courtesy of Valentijn Antiek
(mixed media)


MacColl was an artist well known throughout Burma particularly for his etchings of local scenes and his portraits of men and women of the various Burmese peoples in their traditional costumes, although it is unclear if he ever had any formal art training.  His paintings in particular show an anthropological interest in the various Burmese ethnic groups,  He also decorated scarves, lamp shades, wall plaques and other bric-a-brac. 


Painted Lampshades by E.G. MacColl
Courtesy of Maggie Bruno
(mixed media)
 
Painted Scarf by E.G. MacColl
Courtesy of Frank Silverstein

It is unclear if he served in any official capacity during WWII, although he clearly had some relationship with members of Britain's Royal Air Force No. 181 Signals Wing Corps that was stationed in Burma.  It is well documented that No. 181 Signals Wing Corps was formed on June 9, 1943 and disbanded on March 10, 1946.  This unit began in Imphal, India, proceeded down through Burma to Rangoon, then on to Malaya and Singapore, and finally to Java and Sumatra.  MacColl seemed to have been able to sit out most of the war under the Japanese radar because he lived as a Burmese native and had a Burmese wife.  At some point during the war, however, MacColl was interned by the Japanese (as was his brother Alexander).  According to one report, while under arrest on suspicion of spying, MacColl kicked a Japanese officer who shot at him twice with his revolver, but fortunately the gun misfired.

 
 Portraits of Kachin, Ekaw, and Padaung by E.G. MacColl
Courtesy of Valentijn Antiek
(mixed media)

MacColl's etchings found a receptive audience with British servicemen looking for local souvenirs of their time in Burma.  One serviceman who was friends with MacColl said that he would sell his etchings for alcohol.  His figurative etchings realistically depict the Burmese people in a sympathetic manner, albeit perhaps through a colonial gaze that tends to depict them with an exaggerated sense of contentment with their lot.  His landscape etchings, on the other hand, are filled with vivid shorthand renditions of village life, temples, huts, moats, and paddy boats.

Portraits of Naga, Karen, and Box Chin by E.G. MacColl
Courtesy of Valentijn Antiek
(mixed media)

Portraits of Burmese, Lieu, and Kachin by E.G. MacColl
Courtesy of Valentijn Antiek
(mixed media)

MacColl's etchings are notoriously hard to find in good condition.  This is no doubt largely due to the fact that high quality paper was not available to MacColl during the war, and the extremely humid weather conditions of Burma made them particularly susceptible to foxing.  In fact, paper itself was of such short supply that it is not uncommon to find MacColl's etchings printed on the back of military maps.  They are also found frequently folded or creased, no doubt because the Corps was constantly packing up and moving from place to place and/or because they were folded when mailed home to family and loved ones.

 
Back of "A Paddy Boat" etching
Courtesy of Alison Denman


MacColl's post-WWII years are almost as mysterious as his life before the war.  His nickname was "R.C.P." (for Roman Catholic Priest) by family members, though no one knows why.  It does suggest, however, that he led a rather ascetic lifestyle and may have been religious.  Frank Silverstein, who as a child met McColl at his home in Maymyo in 1961, said his place was "huge and piled high with curios and junk and scarps of things collected over his lifetime.   It was much more like a barn than a hut!'  To Silverstein, MacColl "seemed like a hermit and a tinkerer."  He also said that MacColl's etchings were made with the use of discarded dental X-ray plates.

In 1963, MacColl provided illustrations for the Burma Baptist Chronicle, a history of the Burma Baptist Church.  Given that many of the illustrations depict events that took place before MacColl was born, they would appear to have been commissioned specifically for this publication, rather than taken from his war-time sketchbooks.  None correspond to any known MacColl etchings.  He died a decade later in poor circumstances, in a dilapidated hut in Maymyo littered with his artwork.  His friends saw to it that he was given a dignified funeral.  Today, the Denison Museum in Granville, Ohio has a sizable, though as yet uncatalogued, collection of MacColl's work.  His work can also be found at the Brighton Museum.

 
"A Burmese Family in Mandalay," illustration by E.G. MacColl for Burma
Baptist Chronicle, Book II, edited by Genevieve Sowards and Erville Sowards (1963)
Courtesy of Alison Denman

There is, as yet, no catalogue raisonné for MacColl’s prints, so the following list is undoubtedly incomplete.  If a reader is aware of a missing design, please let me know and I will add it to the list.  MacColl’s etchings are usually, though not always, titled in the plate or else titled by hand in pencil.  Where an actual title is unknown or indecipherable, the descriptive title assigned to it by a cataloger or dealer has been provided in brackets.  All of his etchings appear to be undated, but they all presumed to date to the 1940s.

"Karen Village Scene in Lower Burma," illustration by E.G. MacColl for Burma
Baptist Chronicle, Book II, edited by Genevieve Sowards and Erville Sowards (1963)
Courtesy of Alison Denman

The size of the etchings should be considered approximate only.  Where size information is available, it is often not clear if the dimensions represent the size of the frame, the size of the paper, or the plate size.  Unless otherwise indicated, I have assumed that the size represents the size of the paper.

115 R.C.C. S.E.A.C. (1945 Christmas Card)
Courtesy of Sulis Fine Art
  
181 Signals Wing at Home

 
Amherst Water Pagoda - Near Moulmein (aka Amhurst Pagoda Moulmein)
Courtesy of Ian Stewart

Bamboo Huts (aka Shan Huts)

Bamboo Huts
Courtesy of Judith Oliver
(pencil drawing)

A Bathing Group (plate: 21.8 x 28 cm)
Courtesy of a British Collector

Bazaar (aka The Market)
Courtesy of Alison Denman

 Note:  This appears to be an unsigned proof with the title seemingly in the plate or else in ink.   The following image is signed but has the title added by hand in pencil.

 
 The Bazaar (aka The Market)
Courtesy of Richard Jenner

A Boic Chin (aka A Chin Boic) (paper: 26 x 21 cm)
Courtesy of Albion Prints

The Bullock Cart (21.5 x 15.8 cm)
Courtesy of Richard Jenner

A Burman
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

A Burman
Courtesy of Judith Oliver
(pencil drawing)

A Burmese Lady (24.5 x 15.1 cm)
 Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery

A Burmese Lady
Courtesy of Judith Oliver
(pencil drawing)

A Burmese Pottery
Courtesy of Maggie Bruno
 
The Camelion
Courtesy of Frank Silverstein
 
The Chatty (paper: 27 x 18 cm)
Courtesy of Albion Prints
 
 
Chinlon
Courtesy of Frank Silverstein

 
The Clown 
Courtesy of Frank Silverstein

 
A Country Boat
Courtesy of Maggie Bruno

Cross Cutting Teak (11.4 x 15.8 cm)
Courtesy of Ian Stewart

 
A Dancer
Courtesy of Frank Silverstein

Dragging Teak (11.4 x 15.8 cm)
Courtesy of Albion Prints

The Dressing Room 
Courtesy of Maggie Bruno

A Dugout
Courtesy of Catriona Hamilton

The Ekaw
Courtesy of Richard Jenner

[Etchings of Burma]

A Flooded Village - Sitang
Courtesy of Ian Stewart

Note: This is a very slightly cut-down version of A Flooded Village, Sitang River

[A Flooded Village, Sitang River] (paper: 31 x 39 cm)
Courtesy of Alison Denman

Note: This appears to be an unsigned proof state of "A Flooded Village, Sitang River."  A similar early (but signed) impression is entitled "A Village in Flood."
 
A Flooded Village, Sitang River (aka A Flooded Village)
(plate: 17 x 25.2 cm)
 
A Flooded Village
Courtesy of Judith Oliver
(pencil drawing)

The Flower Girl
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

[Fort Dufferin]

Small Moat, Fort Dufferin, Mandalay 
Courtesy of Sulis Fine Art
(original pencil drawing for the corresponding etching)

 
Fort Dufferin, Mandalay 
(aka Corner of Fort Dufferin, 
Mandalay; Corner of the Moat)
Courtesy of Ian Stewart

Fort Dufferin, Mandalay
Courtesy of Judith Oliver
(pencil drawing)
 
Harpist
Courtesy of Frank Silverstein
 
Hill Karen Woman (21.8 x 14.4 cm)

Hill Karen Women (Papuu)
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

A Jungle Burman
Courtesy of Richard Jenner

The Jungle Dancer (paper: 25 x 30 cm)
Courtesy of Alison Denman

A Jungle Village (I)
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

A Jungle Village (I)
Courtesy of Sulis Fine Art
(original pencil drawing for the corresponding etching)

 A Jungle Village (II)
Courtesy of Judith Oliver
(pencil drawing)

 
A Kachin Woman
Courtesy of Richard Jenner

Karen
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

 The Karen Frog Drum

Karen Frog Drum (paper:11-1/4 x 10 in.)

Karens Fetching Water (plate: 26 x 15.3 cm)
Courtesy of a British Collector

Kipling's Moulmein Pagoda (paper: 21 x 26 cm)
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

A Laumg

 Note: Compare this design with "A Rough Day on the Irrawaddy."

 
The Leg Rower
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

Lisu (I)
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

Lisu (II)

A Log Depot in Sittang
Courtesy of Ian Stewart

Note: This appears to be a cut-down and reworked version of Log Depot on the Sitang River.

Log Depot on the Sitang River
Courtesy of Chris P
Mandalay Hill + Moat (paper: 21 x 26 cm)
Courtesy of Catriona Hamilton

Mandalay Hill
Courtesy of Judith Oliver
(pencil drawing)

The Market
Courtesy of Bill Davison

Maymyo Market
Courtesy of Ian Stewart

 A Monastery in Sittang 
(aka A Monastery; A Monastery + Pagoda)
Courtesy of Ian Stewart

Moulmein Pagoda
Courtesy of Ian Stewart

Note: This appears to be a cut-down version of Kipling's Moulmein Pagoda.

A Naga Chief

A Naga Maiden (paper: 25 x 20 cm)
Courtesy of Richard Jenner

Pa-an on the Salween

 Poc-an [sic: Pa-an] on the Salween
Courtesy of Judith Oliver
(pencil drawing)

 Near Pakokku (aka Village Near Pakokku)
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

 A Padaung
Courtesy of Richard Janner

  A Paddy Boat (paper: 21 x 26 cm)
Courtesy of Alison Denman

Paddy Boats (paper: 21 x 25 cm)
Courtesy of Alison Denman

Paddy Fields

A Pagoda Scene

The Palace Mandalay (paper: 25 x 30 cm)
Courtesy of Albion Prints

 
The Palace Mandalay
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

Note: This appears to be a later proof with more detail but with a narrower plate.

The Palace - Mandalay
Courtesy of Judith Oliver
(pencil drawing)

  The Palace Mandalay
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

  A Phongyi (paper: 25 x 20 cm)
Courtesy of Alison Denman

The Pwe
Courtesy of Richard Jenner

A Raft (plate: 14.4 x 24.5 cm)
Courtesy of a British Collector

Rangoon Shwedagon (paper: 21 x 26 cm)
Courtesy of Albion Prints

The Road to the Village (paper: 25 x 30 cm)
Courtesy of Alison Denman

[A Rough Day on the Irrawaddy] (paper: 32 x 39 cm)
Courtesy of Alison Denman

Note: This appears to an unsigned proof for "Rough Day on the Irrawaddy."

A Rough Day on the Irrawaddy (plate: 14.4 cm x 24.7 cm)
Courtesy of a British Collector

Note: Compare this design with "A Laing."

A Rough Day on the Irrawaddy (inscribed "A Laing")
Courtesy of Judith Oliver
(pencil drawing)
 
The Salween River (Duke of York's Nose)
aka The Duke Of York's Nose - The Salween River
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

Sagaing (paper: 32 x 40 cm)
Courtesy of Alison Denman

Sagaing Hills From Awa
Courtesy of Ian Stewart

Note:  This appears to be a cut-down and reworked version of "Sagaing."

A Scene on the Irrawaddy
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

The Sculpteur - Mandalay (paper: 11-1/4 x 10 in.)

Shan
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

A Shan Girl from Maymyo (11 x 7.1 cm)
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery

A Shan Girl (Maymyo) (paper: 25 x 20 cm)
Courtesy of Albion Prints

A Shan Hut (15.8 x 22.8 cm)
Courtesy of Catriona Hamilton

A Shan Interior
Courtesy of Ian Stewart

Shan Maymyo
Courtesy of Richard Jenner

 
  Shwegin River (paper: 25 x 30 cm)
Courtesy of Alison Denman

Shrimping
Courtesy of Ian Stewart

Shwegyin Pagoda (15.8 x 20.9 cm)

Shwegyin Pagoda
Courtesy of Judith Oliver
(pencil drawing)

  The Sittay River (paper: 25 x 30 cm)
Courtesy of Alison Denman

South Moat - Mandalay (paper: 21 x 26 cm)

The South Moat Mandalay (plate: 24.6 x 31.8 cm)
Courtesy of a British Collector

The Water Pot
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

 
 Women at a Well
Courtesy of Ian Stewart

Women Dressing (paper: 26 x 22 cm)
Courtesy of Albion Prints

Wood Gatherers

A Yawyin (Black Lisu) (17.3 x 10.7 cm)
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery

Yenangyat on the Irrawaddy
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

A Young Girl (paper: 39 x 31 cm)
Courtesy of Alison Denman
 
Zylophone
Courtesy of Frank Silverstein

Other Known Titles (possibly alternate titles for certain of the above prints):

At the River
Bamboo Water Bottles (17.7 x 13.9 cm)
Burmese Dancers
Corner of South Moat
Dancers (15.8 x 18.4 cm)
Man with a Basket (19.6 x 13.3 cm)
Native Boat (13.9 x 19.6 cm)
A Shan Woman
The White Cheroot

March 31, 2018 Addendum -- A reader wrote in to tell me about some watercolors he had inherited from his late father, who had been a British diplomat in Burma.  I recognized them as being very similar to a set of putative watercolors I had seen for sale at a on-line gallery.  I began to wonder if they might actually be hand-colored etchings rather than pure watercolors, and was able to get the owner to confirm that they had plate impressions.

Portraits of Panthay, Karen, Shan, Burman, Chin, and Naga by E.G. MacColl
Courtesy of James Booth
(hand-colored etching)

 Portraits of Palaung, Ekaw, Red Karen, Naga, Chin, and Shan Tayok by E.G. MacColl
 Courtesy of James Booth
(hand-colored etching)

 Portraits of Padaung, Kachin, Karen, Burmese, Shan, and Lisu by E.G. MacColl
Courtesy of James Booth
(hand-colored etching)

 Portraits of Talaing, Karen, Kachin, Karen, Chin, and Burman by E.G. MacColl
 Courtesy of James Booth
(hand-colored etching)

In the following case, however, the figures are slightly out of order.  I think might be the original watercolor for the etching.  I'm also beginning to wonder if the mixed media portraits at the beginning of this post might actually be hand-colored etchings as well.

 Portraits of Kachin, Karen, Talaing, Skaio Karen, Falam Chin, and Burmese
by E.G. MacColl
Courtesy of Sulis Fine Art
(watercolor)

* * *

Some of the above images are of admittedly rather poor quality.   I would very much welcome any replacement images that readers might have to share, or further information about E.G. MacColl's life and career.  My particular thanks to Alison Denmark for her assistance in writing this post and for sharing a number of images of her prints, and to Frank Silverstein for his personal recollections and sharing images of MacColl's rare etchings of children at play.

If a comment box does not appear below, click on this link instead:  http://easternimp.blogspot.com/2016/04/on-road-to-mandalay-burmese-etchings-of.html

16 comments:

  1. My family has 10 of his pencil drawings, bought by my late father when serving in the Chin Hills Bn in the war. They are on the reverse of British army maps which are over printed in Japanese. The maps had been taken from the bodies of British soldiers, sent to Japan and issued to Japanese troops. McColl obtained the map paper from dead Japanese soldiers.

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  2. I knew he printed on old maps, but not where they maps came from, though I assumed from the British Army. You may wish to example your pencil drawings closely to make absolutely sure they are not prints. McConnell often printed them rather faintly, so they can appear to be drawings when they are not. The thing to look for is a plate impression around the design.

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    Replies
    1. They definitely aren't as my father bought them unframed from MacColl himself. He (my father) was Capt ACB Hunt, Chin Hills Bn, Burma Regt, Indian Army. On the orders of FM Slim, he established the School of Jungle Warfare in Maymyo. We have the letter from his CO commending him on successfully doing this. The story behind the maps is that when the Japanese came into the war they had few accurate maps of Burma and so were instructed to take British army issue maps whenever they could.

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    2. Interesting. Do any of your pencil drawings correspond to print designs?

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    3. Several. EG: Women at the well. A Burman. A Burmese lady. Shwe Dagon. I think my sister in Australia has one of the Salween. It's interesting that the map you show above doesn't have the red Japanese overprinting which ours do. These were taken from the dead Japanese soldiers. My email address is juditholiver277@gmail.com if you need to communicate directly. Regards.

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  3. I am in possession of 6 pencil signed black and white prints and a hand colored print with full pencil signature dated 1926-July 31st. My late wife nee Winifred Jean Ellis and her sisters were born in Moulmein and these have been in the family since my inlaws lived there in 1925.I would be happy to photograph what I have and forward them to you.

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    1. If any of the prints are of images not found in this article, I would be happy to add them to it. I can be contacted at the e-mail address at the upper right of every page.

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  4. I have 17 of MacColl's prints,(I think all are prints) all of which are shown in the pictures above. Some are on the back of old maps. The picture which you show as Bazaar, is called The Market on my copy. Also I have 2 coloured unsigned crescent shaped pictures of ethnic people and scenes which I am sure are lampshades which are not shown here.

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    1. MacColl does not always seem to be consistent in his titling of prints (or else he reworked them in ways that are not entirely obvious). I have noted the alternate title for The Bazaar. If you have images of the lampshades you wish to share, you can e-mail them to the address at the top right of this page and I will consider adding them to the article.

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  5. Thanks, I have emailed you.

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  6. Hello,
    Today I came across three MacColl, what appear to be pencil drawings: Entrance to Village, Bamboo Huts and one I didn’t see above: Bougainvillia (sp) Tree. They were all framed, it appears, at L. A. Bigelow Inc. Art Dealers 42 Bromfield Street, Boston

    I’ll try emailing you the images.

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    Replies
    1. Use the email address at the upper right of the blog.

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  7. Do you know of any examples of MacColl's wall plaques please? I have some wall plaques and would like to know if they might be by him.

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    1. I've never seen any of MacColl's wall plaques, sorry.

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  8. I have 7 of his prints; assumed that all were originals based on what my dad told me. He said that they were drawn by an army buddy of his (my dad served in Burma during WW2). That said, my father loved to tell tall tales, so who knows what was true or not. All but 1 are signed. All are drawn on the back of maps. I had one mounted with glass on the back so you can see the actual map. I'd love to share the images with you!

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    1. If you have images of prints I don't already show on this blog (or better images than the ones I already have), you can sent them to me at the address in the upper right of the blog.

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