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McBey, James
The Sussex
1916

On 24 March, 1916, the German navy attacked what it thought was a minelaying ship in the English Channel but which turned out to be a French steamer called The Sussex. Though the ship did not sink and managed to find its way to Boulogne, fifty people died in the accident. This dreadful incident led to the Sussex Pledge of 4 May 1916, in which Germany vowed to no longer target passenger ships. The pledge was rescinded eight months later, a decisive factor in the United States’ entry into and the intensification of the war.

Here, McBey captures the “tragic hull” as a void in the centre of this etching: it forms a gaping hole, from which a mournful procession carries out the dead. He captures the magnitude of the carnage by foreshortening the beached beast and casting its injured hull in shadow. The relatively untouched white of the sky and the sun on the side of the ship belie the seriousness of the scene.

James McBey, a self-taught artist, was one of four full-time artists working for the propaganda office known as Wellington House during Worlf War I.

 
McBey, James
Newburgh, Scotland 1883; Tangier 1959
The Sussex
1916
Etching on paper
20.7 x 38.4 cm
Gift of Simon and Caroline Davis, 2017
60-014.03

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