Maxwell Bates, RCA, 1906-1980

Maxwell Bennett Bates was an early Modernist
and Expressionist painter in Canada

Maxwell Bennett Bates is today recognized as an important figure in modern Canadian art, but he initially found more acceptance overseas than in Canada.

Maxwell Bates was born in 1906 in Calgary, the son of architect William Stanley Bates, who owned his own firm.

Maxwell Bates showed an early interest in both art and architecture, studying architecture and working for his father’s company in the mid 1920s.

He was largely self-taught as a painter, but studied under Lars Haukeness at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art in Calgary.

In 1931, Maxwell Bates moved to London, England, to study both art and architecture. Those dual interests continued, and he worked as an architect while exhibiting his paintings and joining the English group of artists the Twenties Group. He had several solo shows at the gallery associated with the Twenties Group: Wertheim Gallery.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, he enlisted with the British army but was captured at Dunkirk, serving as a prisoner of war for the remainder of the war. Many years later he wrote about his experiences as a POW in the book A Wilderness of Days (1978).

After his release, Maxwell Bates returned to Calgary where he worked again in his father’s firm, while continuing his education in art. He was a founding member of the Calgary Group of artists, associated with Jock (J.W.G.) Macdonald and joined many leading artistic associations.

He studied in the United States with noted expressionist artists Max Beckmann and Abraham Rattner at the Brooklyn Museum Art School; both artists had a strong influence on him.

Maxwell Bates had a wide range of artistic interests, from Paul Klee to Picasso, Japanese prints, Post-Impressionists and old masters such as Michelangelo and Rembrandt. He worked in a wide variety of media, including oil, watercolour, pen and ink, and was an early adopter of lithography printing with his friend, fellow Calgary artist John Snow.

Using a rich palette of colour, Maxwell Bates painted street scenes, landscapes, still-lifes and figures, including people engaging in everyday activities and people placed in a setting of the Prairies. Most often he accentu­ated his subject’s features to project his inner reactions towards the subject matter.

Maxwell Bates found greater acceptance for his art in the post-war years, and he exhibited regularly at galleries in the Western provinces.

In 1962, he had a stroke and suffered partial paralysis but continued his art painting. He also published poetry.

He was elected as a member of the RCA in 1970 and was awarded the Order of Canada in 1980, shortly before his death.

Maxwell Bates’ paintings are held in numerous public collections across Canada, including the National Gallery of Canada and Art Gallery of Ontario, as well as galleries outside the country, including the Tate Gallery in London.


Source:  A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker. National Gallery of Canada, Artists in Canada database.