Night in Ely Cathedral

James McBey (1883-1959), Night in Ely Cathedral, etching and drypoint, 1915, signed in pen lower right and numbered lower left margins (XXXIII). Reference: Hardie 161, eighth state (of 8), from the edition of 76. In very good condition, with margins (cut irregularly at left edge), on a laid paper, 11 5/8 x 8, the sheet 13 1/4 x 9 7/8 inches.

A fine impression.

The composition of Night in Ely Cathedral appears to have been substantially completed in the first state, but McBey made successive alterations with burnishing, drypoint work, sharpening and clarifying certain elements such as the figure of the sacristan at the left, and the light from the gas jet.

Hardie describes the composition thus: The west porch of Ely Cathedral from the nave. The upper part and the whole of the west window are in deep shadow. A gas jet burns at the bottom of the pillars to the left. A sacristan, wearing a scull cap, is in the front.

Malcolm Salaman wrote that after completing the etching Isle of Ely ” McBey yielded to an entirely new and mystic inspiration, and compassed one of his most beautiful and spiritualĀ  efforts, Night in Ely Cathedral. The solemn mystery of the ancient fane by night, with the ages haunting its shadows, seems to have appealed the the depths of McBey’s nature, so that he brought his magic gifts of expression with reverend emotion to the interpretation, just as the religious builders devoted their work on the sacred edifice long, long ago. This masterly plate, with its wonder of peace, was McBey’s last before he was sent to France on war service at the beginning of 1916. “