Sunday, 3 October 2010

Ian Cheyne (Scottish, 1895 - 1955)

There are one or two fairly remarkable things about the Scottish artist Ian Cheyne but foremost must be his position as one of the most original and stylish printmakers to work between the wars. Trained at Glasgow School of Art, in the mid 1920s he began to make colour woodcuts that show a sophisticated approach to the Japanese artist Hokusai. This first print, Summer Picnic, has all the hallmarks, I suspect, of Cheyne as he gathered his resources. He has clearly looked hard at Hoskusai's woodcut 'Three men picnicking at Amida Waterfall' and neatly adapted it to the prevailing fashion for life outdoors.

Not only is the subject virtually the same but the saturated blues are present, plus the alarming ripples and improbable trees. But there is more. His elegant young people owe a significant debt to the French etcher and painter Jean-Emile Laboureur (1870 - 1932).

Cheyne certainly had either reproductions or prints by Laboureur at home in Glasgow but what is most striking is this: the imaginative synthesis. Despite us recognising the loans, he came up with something quite original and absolutely his own. And he stuck to it, refining the approach along the way. 'Campers' of 1934 must be later. Less reliant on Hokusai and less selfconscious than 'Summer Picnic', the composition holds brilliantly round the group of men, the unseen spray and white tent. None of those snow scenes here to introduce whiteness; Cheyne has done something more difficult and more adventurous, resolving the problem of the rather awkward reflection in what I suspect is an earlier work. He was definitely out on his own.

And here is Laboureur in 1916 describing the arrival of the English papers with a kilted soldier buying one. Note the geometry and that it has found its way into 'Summer Picnic'.

Cheyne was involved with the Society of Artist Printers along with Ian Fleming who had been a fellow student at the School of Art. Fleming also made some colour woodcuts but is better known for his etchings. But whatever they produced, they clearly had a market some while after many English artists had given up printmaking. So much so, the English artist, Edgar Holloway, ever the salesman, was put forward for membership by the equally forward Willie Wilson - a friend of Flemings. So, unlike many of his English counterparts, Cheyne could go on producing colour woodcuts throughout the 1930s, making 'Normandy Beach' as late as 1946. In fact, Cheyne had been asked by Colnaghi in February, 1945, whether he could supply any impressions of his pre-war prints and he produced two more new prints, 'Primulas' also from 1946 and 'Spring in Kintail' a year later. He then abandonned printmaking altogther. The print above is Hell's Glen, 1928. Readers who would like to see more of his work can see others on my October post 'Ian Cheyne: six more woodcuts'.

As a postscript, I've included this proof of Brook Mine. There is a stamped signature and it is probably one of the unsigned prints sold by Mrs Cheyne in 1985. It doesn't pay to be too fussy. These glorious prints mainly appear to be in editions of twenty so they are hard to find but well worth the money you will to have to pay to own one.


  1. Again nice to meet a new printmaker. Very appealing prints. You make me looking up Hokusai's prints and do some homework on Laboureur.
    Thanks, also for being the first to leave a comment on your new Blog.

  2. Clive has also covered Cheyne (perhaps before you followed). I dug up some new prints.

    I think it was very much a modernist, twenties thing to synthesise like that.

  3. Yes, and Shona wants to talk to you at the NGS, they want some more information about the estate for a retrospective or something akin to that. I only learned about him through you, so don't be modest.

  4. But, Clive, I got it all from Alan. He did the spade work.

    It's good to hear the NGS are getting something together. Please put Shona onto me through the blog or direct.

  5. Ok no problem. I asked her to email me directly and once she does I shall give her your email address.

  6. Hello

    Yes i would like to talk to you about Ian Cheyne, the National Galleries of Scotland are trying to trace any family connections or rights holders as we have some works in the collection. Would it be possible if either Clive or Haji baba could contact me at my work Picture Library email address (available on

    Kind regards, Shona