Artist: John Maxwell

Date of Birth:
1905
Date of Death:
1962
Place of Death:
Dalbeattie
Residence in Dumfries & Galloway:

Born in Dalbeattie, 12 July 1905. Exhibited from Millbrooke, Dalbeattie, from 1947.

Education:

Edinburgh College of Art, won travelling scholarship to continent 1927. Also studied in Paris under Fernand Leger and Amedee Ozenfant at Leger’s Academie Moderne.

Professional Bodies:

ARSA, 1945, RSA, 1949

Exhibited At:

Royal Scottish Academy; Aberdeen Artists’ Society

Associates:

William Gillies

Bibliography:

John Maxwell, David McLure, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1976. SAC Three Scottish Painters (Maxwell, Eardley, Philipson) 1963. John Maxwell 1905-1962, An Exhibition and Catalogue of his Work  (with introduction by D M Sutherland and catalogue by Douglas Hall),1963. John Maxwell, R H Westwater, Scottish Arts Review, Volume 4, 1956. Memories of Maxwell, exhibition catalogue, Gracefield Arts Centre, Dumfries,1982 included: 8, Mill Near Dalbeattie; 46, Farm Near Dalbeattie; 47, Landscape Near Dalbeattie; 48, Mill Near Dalbeattie. (These works are at Gallery of Modern Art). Gallery of Modern Art 3346 is a self portrait of John Maxwell c1937-9 oil on plywood 86cm by 59cm

Image,  the photograph of John Maxwell at work in his studio at Millbrooke, Dalbeattie, is taken from the Memories of Maxwell exhibition catalogue

Notes:

Born in Dalbeattie, where his parents owned the local cinema. On study visit to Spain and Italy impressed by the work of the Italian primitives. His work also has an affinity with that of Redon and Chagall. Appointed to staff of Edinburgh College of Art 1929. Retired 1946 to paint full time. 1955 invited to be senior lecturer by W G Gillies. Retired again to Dalbeattie 1961. First major exhibition with William Gillies 1954. He had been on painting trips to Kirkcudbrightshire with Gillies in the late twenties.

“In the words “red sandstone, granite, stone dykes, limewash,shore and moorland birds” we recognise the source material of Maxwell’s paintings.  Dalbeattie and Galloway generally were to remain for Maxwell what Cookham was for Stanley Spencer, a fount to which throughout his lifew he constantly returned for refreshment, either physically or in recollection.” David McClure.

“On the death of his parents in 1943 he was able to give up full time teaching at the Art College and return to his beloved Dalbeattie to live on a small private income provided by his share in the family cinema.” McClure.

In a letter to the Tate Gallery, Maxwell described his painting Night Flowers as one of four on the theme of moths, butterflies and flowers, which were inspired by an exceptionally fine flowering of a bush of Rosa Moyesii in the artist’s garden, combimned with his perception of moths against the window at dusk.  Referred to in SNGMA catalogue 1963

His picture Butterflies and Rose in Aberdeen Art Gallery is another in this series.

Stewartry Museum has Evening Landscape.

A S Watt’s personal memory of the artist is contained in the catalogue to the Memories of Maxwell exhibition, Gracefield Art Centre, 1982: “Johnnie lived in Dalbeattie in a very beautiful house, full of books, music and paintings and set in no ordinary garden  and one soon realised that the lyrical, poetic art of this man came from those quiet sources.”

 


John Maxwell one of the most significant Scottish artists of the twentieth century was born in Dalbeattie  on 12th July 1905.  Although he studied in Edinburgh and France and taught for many years at Edinburgh College of Art,  his inspiration came from his native surroundings, the town of Dalbeattie, the soft Galloway  countryside and the nearby coast.  As one biographer has written “Dalbeattie and Galloway generally were to remain  for Maxwell what Cookham was for Stanley Spencer, a fount to which throughout his life he constantly returned for refreshment, either physically or in recollection.”

John was the eldest son of Thomas and Mary Margaret Maxwell.  Thomas worked with his father as a butcher in Dalbeattie but later took over a hotel and grocery shop and eventually the town cinema.  While Douglas and George, John’s younger brothers, worked for the family business, on leaving school John proceeded from Dumfries Academy to Edinburgh College of Art  in 1921.  In 1927 he was awarded a travelling scholarship to study under Leger and Ozenfant in Paris and also visited Spain and Italy.

John Maxwell was appointed to the staff of Edinburgh College of Art in 1929.  With the death of his parents in 1943 he was able to give up full time teaching and return to Dalbeattie, benefiting from his share of the family cinema.  In 1945 he retired to Galloway to paint full time.  In the same year he was elected associate of the Royal Scottish Academy and Academician in 1949.  In 1955 at the invitation of his friend W G Gillies he returned to the College before retiring finally to his home Millbrooke in Dalbeattie, where he died on 3 June 1962.

John Maxwell’s memorial exhibition listed little more than 200 known works.  While his friend with whom he often painted in Galloway and elsewhere, William Gillies would complete six works before lunch, Maxwell would still be considering how to treat his subject.  He was also renowned for destroying his own work.  It is therefore his best which has survived.  Whether it was the view from Millbrooke, which we see in his Landscape with Church and Trees, or a trellis in his garden, which inspired his important series of that name, it was his native surroundings which gave him his inspiration.  When the Tate Gallery bought one of his last works Night Flowers,  he wrote to the gallery to say that the work was inspired by an exceptionally fine bush of Rosa Moyesii, which he could see through his window, combined with moths at his window at dusk.  As his friend Archie Sutter Watt wrote in the introduction to the 1982 exhibition Memories of Maxwell  “Johnnie lived in Dalbeattie in a very beautiful house, full of books , music and paintings and set in no ordinary garden and one soon realised that the lyrical, poetic art of this man came from these quiet sources.”