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 Padaung, Kachim, Karen, Burmese, Shan, and Lieu by E.G. MacColl
Courtesy of Sulis Fine Art
(watercolor)

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.  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 Kachim, 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)

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
Personal Collection

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.  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)
Personal Collection

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)
Personal Collection

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.
  
181 Signals Wing at Home
 
Amhurst Pagoda Moulmein

Bamboo Huts (aka Shan Huts)

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

Bazaar
Courtesy of Alison Denman

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

The Bazzar
Courtesy of Alsion Denmark

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

The Bullock Cart (21.5 x 15.8 cm)

A Burman
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

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

A Burmese Pottery (cropped)

The Chatty (paper: 27 x 18 cm)
Courtesy of Albion Prints

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

The Dressing Room

[Etchings of Burma]

[Far East Girl with Parasol] (paper: 39 x 31 cm)
Personal Collection
 
[A Flooded Village, Sitang River] (paper: 31 x 39 cm)
Personal Collection

Note: This appears to be an unsigned proof state of "A Flooded Village, Sitang River"
 
A Flooded Village, Sitang River (aka A Flooded Village)  (plate: 17 x 25.2 cm)

The Flower Girl
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

[Fort Dufferin]

Fort Dufferin, Mandalay (paper: 26 x 21 cm)
Courtesy of Albion Prints

Hill Karen Woman (21.8 x 14.4 cm)

Hill Karen Women (Papuu)
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

The Jungle Dancer (paper: 25 x 30 cm)
Personal Collection

A Jungle Village
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

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
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

Log Depot on the Sitang River
Courtesy of Chris P

Mandalay Hill + Moat (paper: 21 x 26 cm)
Courtesy of Albion Prints

A Monastery
Courtesy of Alison Denmark


A Naga Maiden (paper: 25 x 20 cm)
Courtesy of Albion Prints

 Near Pakokku
Courtesy of Alison Denmark
 
A Padaung

 A Paddy Boat (paper: 21 x 26 cm)
Personal Collection

Paddy Boats (paper: 21 x 25 cm)
Personal Collection

Paddy Fields

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 Alison Denmark

 A Phongyi (paper: 25 x 20 cm)
Personal Collection

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)
Personal Collection

[A Rough Day on the Irrawaddy] (paper: 32 x 39 cm)
Personal Collection

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 Laumg."

The Salween River (Duke of York's Nose)
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

Sagaing (paper: 32 x 40 cm)
Personal Collection

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)

 
 Shwegin River (paper: 25 x 30 cm)
Personal Collection

 The Sittay River (paper: 25 x 30 cm)
Personal Collection

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 (paper: 27 x 19 cm)
Courtesy of Albion Prints

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

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

Yenangyat on the Irrawaddy
Courtesy of Alison Denmark

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
Cross-Cutting Teak (11.4 x 15.8 cm)
Dancers (15.8 x 18.4 cm)
A Jungle Burman
Man with a Basket (19.6 x 13.3 cm)
Native Boat (13.9 x 19.6 cm)
A Shan Woman
Shwegin Pagoda (15.8 x 20.9 cm)
The White Cheroot
A Young Girl

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 shareing a number of images of her prints.

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