Summer 2015 Newsletter

Summer 2015  MacDonald Gill Newsletter

The year has been relatively quiet with just a handful of talks and no major exhibitions, although Max's Wonderground Map of London Town together with its pen-and-ink artwork were included in the Kemistry Gallery's show 100 Years of Graphic Design in March.

Cambridge: Friends of Kettle's Yard MacDonald Gill Walk

Cambridge is home to 4 important painted maps by Max and in June I led a visit to these for the Friends of Kettle’s Yard.  Our first venue was the  Guildhall, designed by Charles Cowles-Voysey, where Max’s impressive map of Cambridge and its colleges graces the Mayor’s Parlour.  According to Max's assistant Priscilla Johnston, there were frequent interruptions during its creation in 1938, requiring drastic action: ‘we lock ourselves in, now – by the advice of the nice-bearded clerk of the works & the police (!) to escape the comments & suggestions of the Mayor & Corporation.  This works very well’. 

Then it was on to Trinity College, where we were escorted to the Allhusen room to see a 1926 wind-dial map (pictured left) set in limed oak panelling, showing a circular bird’s eye perspective of the college.  Commissioned by the architect Edward Maufe, this was a gift from Augustus Allhusen's widow to commemorate the life of her husband, once Conservative MP for Hackney, who had been a don at the college.

And finally, after a stroll in gentle summer rain, we reached The Polar Museum, where we admired the saucer-shaped maps of the Arctic (bottom left) and Antarctic (detail below) painted in 1934 high up in the entrance hall domes.  These beautiful maps document the names and ships of polar explorers from Pytheas the Greek in the 4th century BC to Scott's tragic expedition of 1912 as well as early feats by air, including Nobile and Amundsen's triumphant crossing of the Arctic by airship in 1926.  Every ship is drawn in delicate detail, testimony not only to Max's skill but also his love of the subject matter, while his elegant gilded lettering on blue ground records the names of the explorers.  Priscilla was inexperienced and came in for occasional criticism: 'Max brooded over me & gave advice ...  until I thought I should scream', but overall she remembered the period with great fondness, finally watching the ceremonial opening of the building by King George V.

Lastly, I'd like to say a big thank you to the kind and helpful people who made these visits possible, especially Chris Cracknell at the Guildhall, Jessica at Trinity College and Bryan Lintott at the Polar Museum.



Arabian Nights

When leafing through a pile of Max’s artwork in the Johnston collection a few years ago, I came across a curious scrap of paper with some Arabic calligraphy dated 1914.  With a little delving, I discovered it was the pen-and-ink artwork for an inscription to decorate a dinner service for Alfred Mildmay, a director of Barings Bank.  His family told me that the dinner service has not only survived but is still in use on special occasions.  A great-nephew recently sent me a photo (below) of one of the plates - was this final version by Max we wonder?



‘Punch & Judy’ and the Borough Polytechnic Murals

Recently I've been collaborating with a picture conservator who has begun a two-year restoration project on Max’s ‘Punch & Judy’, a large mural in oils (90"x73"), one of seven produced in 1911 by a group of artists to decorate the newly refurbished dining hall of the Borough Polytechnic Institute, set up to educate local people in a range of practical skills.  The decoration scheme was the brainchild of Roger Fry, a devotee of Post-Impressionism and also an advocate not only of public art, but also of art for all, not only the privileged.  The theme of the Borough Polytechnic murals - 'London on Holiday' -  would reflect the experiences of ordinary people.  The other artists he recruited were Duncan Grant, Bernard Adeney, and Albert Rutherston.  Max wrote to a brother: 'The general result caused a great stir when the critics were let in'. The National Review called the scheme 'a hideous, clumsy nightmare' while The Times correspondent, although finding Max's image 'too determinedly comic', concluded that 'the main result ... is that the room is a very pleasant and interesting place.  It will make any one, except a determined art critic, feel happy'. 

The paintings were removed when the building was altered and in 1931 were sold to the Tate.  Although I do have colour photos of 'Punch & Judy', they were taken at the Tate Store and can't be reproduced without permission; this b-&-w image is from Max's own portfolio.  I'm looking forward to seeing the picture in the Tate conservation studio shortly and will report back in my next newsletter.


Max's Cable & Wireless Great Circle Map (1945) will be on show at Tate Britain in the exhibition: Artist and Empire from 25 November 2015 – 10 April 2016

No further talks are scheduled at the moment.  But I would be delighted to hear from any society that would be interested in one.  So, if you are involved in a group that might like a talk, do get in touch or pass on my details to the Events Secretary.