Jamaica’s Art Pioneers: Sidney McLaren (1895-1979)

Sidney McLaren – Scene on Harbour Street (1972), Collection: NGJ

The Intuitive painter (and occasional sculptor) Sidney McLaren lived and worked in the parish of St Thomas, in eastern Jamaica, but is best known for his fanciful depictions of life and physical environment in Jamaica’s bustling capital city, Kingston. Frequently using postcards as a visual source, his intricate city-scapes were made by a painter who only saw the best, as it was put in a 1974 Gleaner article on his work. The unknown author of that article further wrote:

McLaren often distorts the perspective if he feels it improves the overall design and he may even shift a building or a church-steeple to left or right to achieve a kind of poetic geometry in his compositions. His pedestrians and motorists are always nicely dressed, looking most prosperous. They seldom seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere and so their gait is appropriately measured and dignified as they progress along spotless and shining pavements.


A somewhat unusual picture by him is in the National Collection in that it depicts racing at Caymanas Park.here, unexpectedly, McLaren shows himself quite skilful in recording almost violent movement of the horses and riders and the tense atmosphere of the grand-stand packed with spectators.

McLaren’s upbeat perspective on Kingston life stands in striking contrast with that of David Pottinger, which presents a dignified but far more somber view, which was perhaps informed by Pottinger’s personal experience of life, and poverty, in the capital city

Sidney McLaren – Racing at Caymanas Park (1971), Collection: NGJ

Here is Sidney McLaren’s biography, in his own words:

I, Sidney McLaren, born at Spring Garden. St Thomas, on the 18th of March 1895 in the year of our lord, reached 6th grade in primary school. After leaving school, I went to learn “Coach Building” trade. After finishing, motor cars started to come into the island. The owners of carriages put them away, and got motor cars in their place. The trade that I learned did not have any use to me, so I started to do some farming on my fathers little plot of land.

I got married on the 27th June 1926.

I met with three years of hurricanes, one after another, so I was compelled to leave the farm and go in search of work.

Many times I try to work and failed to obtain same except at the P.W.D. As a casual worker on asphalting. This condition went on for many years until I got fed up. I decided to make a job for myself.

In the yard in which I was living, one day I took a bit of cardboard and pencil and started to draw the house , trees, fencing etc. After showing it around , people praised it, so I was more interest and discovered that my mental faculties started to work by my concentrating on art.

Then my motives drove me to action, and without a teacher I found myself doing the “Fine Drawing”- Drawing and Painting.

Sidney McLaren – Morant Bay (1970), Collection: NGJ

I won a first prize at Lyssons Agricultural show in 1960, and a second first prize at the Morant Bay Parish Library in 1964. A third first prize at the institute of Jamaica in 1970, and another first prize at the Institute in 1973.

In 1975 I was awarded a Silver Musgrave Medal.

In 1977 I won another first prize at institute of Jamaica.

If it pleases the lord, my desire is to go on drawing and painting until I can do more. For the lord said he will fulfill the desire of those that love and fear him”.

Sidney McLaren was one of the key artists featured in the NGJ’s seminal  Intuitive Eye exhibition in 1979, the year of his death, and was awarded the Order of Distinction, one of Jamaica’s national honours, in that same year. His work is well represented in the NGJ collection and several private collections.

Sidney McLaren – King and Barry Street (1971), Collection: NGJ


One thought on “Jamaica’s Art Pioneers: Sidney McLaren (1895-1979)

  1. Pingback: National Gallery of Jamaica Blog Features Sidney McLaren « Repeating Islands

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