Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot

Study of a Girl

c.1910

Artist
Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot 1886–1911
Medium
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 305 x 244 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1927
Reference
N04229

Not on display

Catalogue entry

Entry

Background

Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot was one of the founder members of the Camden Town Group, but only exhibited at the first exhibition in June 1911. He was a recent, very talented, graduate from the Slade School of Fine Art and, with James Dickson Innes, was the youngest artist to be asked to join the group, probably invited by Spencer Gore. Unlike most of the other members, Lightfoot was not a pupil or follower of either Walter Sickert or of post-impressionism and, as an almost complete unknown, may only have been using the Camden Town Group platform as an opportunity to get his work exhibited in public rather than sharing in their overall aesthetic outlook. His work was wholly unlike anything else in the exhibition, a fact which was picked up by many reviewers who, although largely admiring of his work, were puzzled by his inclusion. Two paintings in particular from the four he exhibited, an oil, Boy with a Hoop. Frank c.1911 (fig.1), and another oil, in tondo format, Mother and Child c.1911 (private collection),1 were singled out for praise, especially by those critics who were uneasy with the bright colours and experimental style of Gore, Harold Gilman, Charles Ginner and Robert Bevan, or the sordid, murky interiors of Sickert’s Camden Town Murder paintings. The World went so far as to write that Lightfoot’s paintings alone were the ‘only contributions that have serious claim to be regarded as works of art’,2 and the Daily Telegraph maintained that his work ‘was assuredly the most interesting that the exhibition has to show’.3 The Morning Post described Lightfoot’s drawings as ‘powerful’, and suggested that this ‘William Orpen in the making’ was ‘not going to remain satisfied with the light, rather precarious, painting of the Camden Town Group’.4
This prediction proved to be correct. Not only was Lightfoot’s work stylistically and thematically very different to that produced by the other members of the Camden Town Group, but he had little respect or admiration for his fellow artists and their output. In a revealing letter to his Slade contemporary, Rudolph Ihlee (1883–1968), Lightfoot wrote:

Subject and style

Victor Hugo’s The Laughing Man

Ownership

Nicola Moorby
May 2003

Notes

1
Reproduced in The Painters of Camden Town 1905–1920, exhibition catalogue, Christie’s, London 1988 (88).
2
World, 21 June 1911, p.12.
3
Daily Telegraph, 22 June 1911, p.8.
4
Morning Post, 3 June 1911, p.16.
5
Quoted in Rudolph Ihlee 1883–1968, exhibition catalogue, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield 1978, p.12.
6
Ibid.
7
See Emma Chambers, ‘Slade Influences on the Camden Town Group, 1896–1910’, The Camden Town Group, Tate 2011, http://www.tate.org.uk.
8
Notes by Sir Michael Ernest Sadler on the death of M.G. Lightfoot, Tate Archive TGA 8221/5.
9
David Fraser Jenkins, ‘Slade School Symbolists’, in The Last Romantics: The Romantic Tradition in British Art, Burne-Jones to Stanley Spencer, exhibition catalogue, Barbican Art Gallery, London 1989, p.71.
10
Walker Art Gallery WAG 7570. Reproduced in Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot 1886–1911, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool 1972 (22, pl.8).
11
Walker Art Gallery WAG 7569. Reproduced ibid. (23, pl.9).
12
Ibid., appendix no.38.
13
Walker Art Gallery 1972, p.15.
14
Victor Hugo, The Laughing Man: The Authorised English Translation, trans. by Anna Caroline Steele, London 1887.
15
Walker Art Gallery 1972, appendix no.39.
16
Ibid. (24).
17
Ibid., appendix no.41.
18
Ibid., pp.15–16.
19
Ibid.
20
Hugo 1887, p.188.
21
Notes by Sir Michael Ernest Sadler on the death of M.G. Lightfoot, Tate Archive TGA 8221/5.
22
Quoted in Graves Art Gallery 1978, p.12.
23
Tate Archive TGA 7121/1–8.

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