Thursday, 28 July 2011

Winifred McKenzie


The facts are many, the print works available are few is how I'd describe the present situation for the Scots artist and teacher Winifred McKenzie (1905 - 2001). She spent her early childhood in Bombay where her father was in business. George McKenzie had once trained with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, no less, and in 1913 returned his family home to Scotland where his two daughters attended Prior's Field School. In 1923 McKenzie moved on to the Glasgow School of Art to study painting and drawing. And it was here that she first came across the printmaking MacNabs.

Like McKenzie, Chica MacNab's family had spent time in the far east and she now set about introducing her to the woodcut. The extent of her success can be judged by the colour prints here, more modern in feel than the work of Ian Cheyne who had also studied at Glasgow and was over ten years her senior. She applies an easy faux-cubism (at least to our eyes) and certainly has a more abstract feel than Cheyne but comparisons are unavoidable partly because the standard he set for younger Scottish printmakers were high ones. As you also can tell from the two Scottish subjects The old bridge, Dalmally and Haslithal, McKenzie rose to the challenge. She was awarded her diploma and teacher's cetificate in 1927. The challenges were then compounded by Chica's brother, Iain.

A former student at Glasgow himself, Iain MacNab (1890 - 1967) had opened the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in Pimlico, London, in 1925. The teachers included the linocut luminaries Sybil Andrews, Claude Flight (who left in 1930) and Cyril Power but McKenzie, I think fatefully, turned to Macnab and his class in wood-engraving. That was 1932. And while The law mill, St Andrews is fine work, frankly, it could be almost anyone. Well, perhaps, not anyone, but someone good from the 1920s. But she made this print in 1949. The family, certainly including her mother and younger sister, Alison, had decamped to London in 1930. It may have been the difficulties of war or the London blitz or the availability of work that drove them back to Scotland. Both sisters had exhibited in London but between 1940 and 1945 Winifred taught wood engraving to allied servicemen at St Andrew's, University (the course was especially popular with the Polish students) and then in 1944 set up the wood-engraving class at Dundee College of Art. She retired from there in 1958 but was still painting (as she had said she always would) untill she died.  Incredibly, that was only ten years ago. How long it will take for her stylish, sumptuous colour prints to get the recognition they deserve is anyone's guess. Paintings by her there are many, colour woodcuts there are few.


  1. Having only knowledge of the last print all this information is most welcome. Her use of color is reminding me of Cornwall printer Meryl Watts, only better.

  2. In your post on Watts, you say that she is Welsh but the comparison you make is interesting. I think McKenzie's work also shows the influence of John Platt.

    Is she better than Watts? Or does she just think more? It doesn't appeal to everyone. Her compositions are certainly more complex.