Hugh McKenzie

Watercolourist who created a record of the London streets
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The Independent Online

Hugh William McKenzie, artist and fireman: born Cromarty 27 April 1909; married 1953 Eve Barham (died 1985); died London 6 March 2005.

Hugh McKenzie with his watercolour sketches made a particular contribution in recording the streets of the City and south-east London. For many years he could only practise his art in his spare time, yet his output even into old age remained prodigious.

Many examples can be seen in the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the National Maritime Museum, public galleries in Exeter and Nottingham, the Goldsmiths' College permanent collection and the collections of various London boroughs. In addition, he sold well to private clients in galleries in the Blackheath, Greenwich, Deptford and Lewisham area where he lived. McKenzie was a key member of the Blackheath Art Society and a familiar figure with his sketchbook.

Hugh McKenzie was born in 1909 in Cromarty, in the north of Scotland, one of three children of William Ewart Gladstone McKenzie, a surveyor of taxes. Hugh showed early talent, exhibiting his first public work at the age of 10 - a picture of the Sherwood Foresters returning to a civic reception at the end of the First World War.

He attended the Slade School of Fine Art under Professor Henry Tonks, but hopes of making a living as a full-time artist during the Depression were slim. He became a clerk with the British, Foreign and Colonial Corporation, which had offices near the Guildhall. He later worked for a firm of stockbrokers nearby in Austin Friars.

Hugh McKenzie spent his lunchtimes looking around the City streets and buildings, occasionally making rapid sketches. He began to return at weekends or during summer evenings, later washing in the drawings at home. McKenzie cited several London topographical draughtsmen among his formative influences, including Sir Henry Rushbury and Sydney Robert Jones. He continued to improve his skills, studying part-time at Goldsmiths' College, St Martin's School of Art and in Woolwich.

He eventually joined the Fire Service: he served during the Second World War; was for a time in charge of the Sydenham station, then retired in the mid-1960s. He was still a fit man, remaining a formidable rugby player into his early fifties, playing at one time for Beckenham. In retirement he had all day to sketch and paint. "He would work as the mood took him," recalls his nephew John Robertson, "but the mood took him a good deal."

McKenzie did some teaching, at Goldsmiths' and elsewhere in south-east London.

In 1965 McKenzie was made a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers and awarded the Freedom of the City. He regularly took part in the thriving Lord Mayor's Art Award scheme and related exhibitions and was a member of the organising committee of the City of London Art Exhibition. He had had a solo show organised by the former Woolwich Polytechnic at the Manor House, Lee, in 1961, and there was another at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Moorgate Place in 1985.

After a small number of his pictures had entered the Guildhall collection, in 1980 its holding of his watercolours and pen-and-ink drawings on paper was hugely expanded when McKenzie gave about 150 works, mostly dating from the 1960s and 1970s. Some were exhibited in the Foyer Gallery of the Barbican Centre in 1986.

He was still active when he had a successful 90th birthday exhibition at the Gallery at Architecture Ltd in 1999.

David Buckman