William McLaren: An Artist Out Of Time

Year of production: 
Running time: 
51 minutes
Jim Hickey
Robin Mitchell

This 51-minute film is the first attempt to document the life and work of the Scottish painter, illustrator and decorative artist, William McLaren. From humble beginnings in the 1920s in Cardenden, a mining town in Fife, McLaren went on to produce work in some of the finest houses in the UK.

William McLaren at workAt Edinburgh College of Art during WWII, McLaren's style was influenced by the artist Joan Hassall. Studying the Old Masters on trips to France and Italy, McLaren honed his skills in a wide variety of pictorial techniques.

In the 1950s, his London agent found him commercial work and his illustrations appeared regularly for sixteen years in the Radio Times, the BBC's weekly guide to radio and television. He became a prolific book illustrator and designer of dust jackets for over 150 books.

With a move to Edinburgh in 1963, McLaren's social circle widened and he was commissioned by Lord Linlithgow to create a series of paintings for the staircase at Hopetoun House. This was the breakthrough for McLaren, leading to a number of decorative commissions in private houses and public buildings where he developed his trompe l'oeil style.

McLaren never achieved wide public recognition, perhaps because he lived in the wrong time, preferring the art of the past. The filmmakers have traced hundreds of works by McLaren and many of these are included in this documentary, together with testimony from those who knew him. He died in 1987, aged 64, leaving behind a range of work that will surprise and delight many people.