The son of a printer, Bone was born in Glasgow and trained initially as an architect, later going on to study art at Glasgow School of Art. He began printmaking in 1898, and although his first known print was a lithograph, he is better known for his etchings and drypoints. His subject matter was principally related to landscapes, architecture (which often focussed on urban construction and demolition sites) and industry.
In 1901 he moved to London, where he met William Strang, Dugald MacColl and Alphonse Legros, and later became a member of the New English Art Club. Bone was also a member of the Glasgow Art Club with which he exhibited.
World War I
At the outbreak of the World War I, Charles Masterman, head of the British War Propaganda Bureau, acting on the advice of William Rothenstein, appointed Bone as Britain's first official war artist in May 1916. Although thirty-eight years old at the outbreak of war, Bone was rescued from certain enlistment by the intervention of those in the art establishment who recognized what an asset his work might be as pictorial propaganda for the Allied cause. Furthermore, Bone worked almost exclusively in black and white; his drawings were invariably small and their realistic intensity reproduced well in the government-funded publications of the day. Where some artists might have demurred at the challenge of drawing ocean liners in a drydock or tens of thousands of shells in a munitions factory, Bone delighted in them; he was rarely intimidated by complex subjects and whatever the challenge those who commissioned his work could always be sure that out of superficial chaos there emerged a beautiful and ordered design.
Commissioned as an honorary Second Lieutenant, Bone served with the Allied forces on the Western Front and also with the Royal Navy for a time. He arrived in France on 16 August 1916, during the Battle of the Somme and produced 150 drawings of the war before returning to England in October 1916. Over the next few months Bone returned to his earlier subject matter, drawing pictures of shipyards and battleships. He visited France again in 1917 where he took particular interest in the ruined towns and villages.
After the Armistice, Bone returned to the type of works he produced before the war, and was influential in promoting fellow war artists William Orpen and Wyndham Lewis. He began to undertake extensive foreign travels which increasingly influenced his work. In 1923 he produced three portraits of the novelist Joseph Conrad during an Atlantic crossing. In the inter-war period he exhibited extensively in London and New York, building up a considerable reputation. He received a knighthood in 1937.
World War II
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Muirhead Bone was appointed a member of the War Artists' Advisory Committee and also became a full-time salaried artist to the Ministry of Information specialising in Admiralty subjects. He produced scenes of coastal installations, evacuated troops and portraits of officers. However, following the death of his son Gavin in 1943, he decided not to continue with the Admiralty commission but he did remain an active Committee member until the end of the war. His other son, Stephen Bone was subsequently appointed to the vacant Admiralty position.
Sir Muirhead Bone died in 1953 in Oxford. His final resting place is in the churchyard adjacent to the St. Mary's Church Whitegate at Vale Royal parish in Cheshire. He has a memorial stone in St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
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- Glasgow Herald article 4 December 1909 ‘’The Glasgow Art Club – Interesting Exhibition’’ Retrieved 2011-08-17
- Vale Royal Borough Council. (2005). "Whitegate Conservation Area Update," p. 11.
- Paul Gough (2010) ‘A Terrible Beauty’: British Artists in the First World War (Sansom and Company, Bristol) pp.46-48.
- Imperial War Museum. "The Battle of the Somme - Muirhead Bone". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- Brain Foss (2007). War paint: Art, War, State and Identity in Britain, 1939-1945. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10890-3.
- St. Mary's Church Whitegate: history
- Bone, Muirhead The Western Front: Drawings by Muirhead Bone. Intro. by Gen. Sir Douglas Haig. Text by C.E. Montague. NY: Doran/Doubleday. 1917
- Gough, Paul J. (2010) ‘A Terrible Beauty’: British Artists in the First World War', Bristol, Sansom and Company, 42 - 61.