Artist biography

Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot 'Self-Portrait in Smock and High Collar' c.1904–5
Fig.1
Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot
Self-Portrait in Smock and High Collar c.1904–5
Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot was born on 19 July 1886 in Liverpool (fig.1). He was the second son in a family of five children born to William Henry Lightfoot, and his wife, Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot (née Lindsay). His mother had acquired her unusual name on the wishes of her sea captain father who, prior to being lost at sea during a voyage, and expecting a boy, had left instructions that the baby should be named Maxwell Gordon. The name was bestowed upon the newborn in his memory despite the fact that she was a girl. She then subsequently conferred it upon her son. Lightfoot’s father earned a living as an insurance agent, a commercial traveller and subsequently as a pawnbroker. The family later moved to Helsby in Cheshire and in 1901, Lightfoot, aged fifteen, began his art training at Chester Art School. In 1905 the family moved back to Liverpool and Lightfoot attended evening classes at the Sandon Studios which were then under the directorship of Gerard Chowne (1875–1917), a flower painter in the style of the French artist Henri Fantin-Latour, and J. Herbert McNair (1868–1955), one of the ‘Glasgow Four’ (along with his wife Frances MacDonald, her sister Margaret, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh). Around the same time Lightfoot was able to employ his talents for drawing and design as an apprenticed chromolithographer at the firm of Turner and Dunnett, commercial printers who produced seed catalogues.
Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot 'Male Figure Standing' 1909
Fig.2
Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot
Male Figure Standing 1909
Photo © UCL Art Collections
Lightfoot cherished greater ambitions beyond a career designing seed advertisements. In 1907, aged twenty-one, he took the advice of Chowne and moved to London to study at the Slade School of Fine Art, the training ground for so many of the leading figures of British art at this time.1 The generation of students which Lightfoot joined include well-known names such as C.R.W. Nevinson, Stanley Spencer, Edward Wadsworth and Mark Gertler. Despite the high standard of competition from his peers, Lightfoot was clearly able to hold his own as one of the most talented draughtsmen of his year. In 1909 he was awarded first prizes in figure painting (fig.2), head painting, painting from the cast and the Summer Composition Competition, and also second prize in figure drawing.2

Nicola Moorby
April 2003

Notes