Maxwell Ashby Armfield

This England: Portrait of an Owner


Not on display

Maxwell Ashby Armfield 1881–1972
Tempera on paper
Support: 394 × 397 mm
Purchased 1975

Display caption

Armfield described this picture as a satirical view of industrial society, which he loathed, and saw personified in the figure of the small industrialist. Armfield was on the side of ‘Beauty preserved’; he had previously painted landscapes and buildings owned by the National Trust under this title.

This emblematic portrait of the despoiling enemy is based on an earlier drawing of his father, an engineer who had a factory at Ringwood, Hampshire, where Armfield was born. It also reflects his esoteric theory of colour in which the interplay of magenta and green had ‘zodiacal’ significance.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed with monogram and ‘Portrait of an Owner 1943’ b.r.
Tempera on paper laid on card, 15 1/2×15 5/8 (39.4×39.8)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1975 from Alexander Ballard
Coll: Given by the artist to Alexander Ballard 1952
Exh: Spring Exhibition, R.W.S., 1943 (143); Retrospective Exhibition of Works by Maxwell Armfield, R.W.S., R.W.S. Galleries, March 1944 (51) and in subsequent tour of part of a selection of the exhibition at Sheffield, Derby and Manchester Art Galleries later the same year; Pictures by Maxwell Armfield, Salisbury College of Art, 1951 (12).
Repr: Maxwell Armfield, Tempera Painting Today, 1946, plate IV.

According to Alexander Ballard, who with his wife had the artist living with them for the last twenty years or so of his life, Maxwell Armfield told him that this picture was a satirical view of industrial society, a type of society the artist detested, and personified a small industrialist. The painting was based on a drawing of his father, signed with initials and dated 14 January 1911, by Armfield (coll. A. Ballard). His father, an engineer, owned a factory at Ringwood, Hampshire, where Maxwell Armfield was born.

In his ‘Picture Record’, Volume IV (coll. A. Ballard), Armfield gave T01975 the opus number 263. The entry continues ‘“This England” Series: Portrait of an Owner. Theme of Capricorn and Colour Pentatonic on 1’. The ‘Picture Record’ contains no other works with part of the title ‘This England’, though in 1956 he painted ‘An Epitaph for England’.

After the death of his wife in 1940, Armfield became very interested in astrology, theosophy and Eastern religions, especially Buddhism. He developed his own theories on colour, which he expressed in three volumes written under the pseudonyms of Hugh Darval and John Moxford and published by the Pentagon Press, London, between 1944 and 1947. They are: Colour: Its Meaning and Use 1944, Colour: The Twelve Primaries 1945, and Colour: Scales: Modes and Chordal Integration 1947. In Colour: The Twelve Primaries Armfield set out his ideas on the relationship between certain colours, musical notes and astrology. In his opinion there are twelve primary hues of the solar spectrum, ranging from Makaris to Ultima. Makaris, generally known as magenta, was, according to Armfield, allocated to the zodiacal sign of Capricorn (21 December–19 January), and the complementary colour green.

Magenta and green play a leading part in ‘This England: Portrait of an Owner’. However as Armfield's father was born in May, and thus not a Capricorn subject according to astrological theory, the picture probably does not reflect the artist's view of his father.

The compiler is grateful to Alexander Ballard for his help with this entry.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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