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John MAXWELL 1905 - 1962

ARSA 1945, RSA 1949

Biography

Born Dalbeattie, Dumfries & Galloway, John Maxwell began to study at Edinburgh College of Art in 1921 together with William Gillies, who was in his last year as a student. In 1926 he won a travelling scholarship and spent a period working in Paris under Leger and Ozenfat at the Academie Moderne. French Symbolist art fascinated him, especially the drawing and lithographs of Odilon Redon, and he was also deeply impressed by the vivid, evocative work of Marc Chagall.

In 1929 he joined the staff at ECA, and assisted the Principal, Gerald Moira, on murals for St Cuthbert’s Church. He saw Moira’s fluent handling of watercolour and his vivid sense of colour. In 1934-5 Maxwell executed a series of murals for Craigmillar School, Niddrie, which can still be seen today. Maxwell and Gillies went on many painting trips together, the first being to Kirkcudbrightshire in the late 1920s followed by visits to Morar, Ardnamurchan and the Kyle of Lochalsh in the 1930s. Their approach to painting was very different: Gillies worked in a spontaneous manner, whereas Maxwell created, slowly and painstakingly, his own inner vision.

He experimented with mixtures of watercolour, pen-and-ink, chalk and gouache and during the 1930s moved away from landscape towards single figures or heads set in imaginary landscapes. In 1943 Maxwell left the College on grounds of ill health and retired to Dalbeattie to concentrate on his own work. He became friends with his former student, Archie Sutter Watt who had moved to the region to take up a teaching post. William Gillies persuaded him to return to teach in Edinburgh in 1955, taking the post of Senior Lecturer in Composition, but he died aged 57 after a long period of ill health.