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John McKenzie 

(Glasgow 1897-1972 Arbroath)

Man with Goblet, c.1920s   *SOLD*

carved Welsh slate in high relief, on wooden stand

signed ‘JM’ front right

with hand-written label verso ‘MAN WITH GOBLET’, and inventory number ‘24’

18 x 16 x 2.5 cm.


The artist’s estate;

The Studio Collection of John McKenzie, Woolley & Wallis, Salisbury, lot 60;

Private collection, London.

Until recently the work of John McKenzie, a reclusive, self-taught Scottish sculptor, was little known - but an exhibition by Liss Fine Art in 2012 did much to put him back on the map and set him within the context of his time. His carvings share an affinity with classical antiquity, as well as with contemporaries like Leon Underwood or Eric Gill - depicting everyday scenes in a quasi-mythological way. 

The Scotsman was a steward in the Petty Officers’ Mess, aboard H.M.S. Condor, the Fleet Air Arm Training School at Arbroath, Angus, on the east coast of Scotland. Thus, he indulged his passion for carving by night and at the weekends - a sculptor of rare talent but little time. At first he worked in wood, but came to prefer the harder medium of Welsh roof slates, which of course were cheap and easily obtained. He accentuated the depth of these necessarily shallow designs by polishing them with linseed oil mixed with slate dust. 

McKenzie produced around three to four reliefs a year, and sold no more than a handful of sculptures during his lifetime, despite exhibiting his slates at the Royal Scottish Academy Summer Exhibition, the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, and The Arbroath Art Society, (and in two solo exhibitions at the Arbroath Public Library). When he died in 1972, he left a type-written inventory listing a mere 112 works of art, of which the present piece was ‘no. 24’. It is unlikely that his complete oeuvre stretched much beyond 150 carvings in total, a small but important nucleus of work.

Peyton Skipwith observed in Liss Fine Art’s catalogue that McKenzie’s “reliefs are, in many ways, like three-dimensional drawings, and it is not surprising to read in that rare interview he gave to The Arbroath Herald that he kept on ‘drawing, and redrawing, till what I’ve produced simply asks to be carved.’ These low-cut slate reliefs have all the modulation and shading of an obsessive and perfectionist draughtsman, the sort who draws and redraws until the paper is lacerated.”

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