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Max Wall ('Max with Onde')

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Max Wall ('Max with Onde')

by Maggi Hambling
oil on canvas, 1981
36 in. x 26 in. (914 mm x 660 mm)
Purchased, 1983
Primary Collection
NPG 5578

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Maggi Hambling (1945-), Painter. Artist of 13 portraits, Sitter in 15 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Born Maxwell George Lorimer, Max Wall became well known in the 1940s as a radio comedian on Variety Bandbox, Midday Music-Hall and Variety Playhouse. He latterly achieved acclaim in serious roles especially in works by Samuel Beckett. The full title of this portrait is Max with Onde, Onde being one of the three cats which Maggi Hambling owned at the time. The portrait captures the moment just after Wall had finished singing 'Poor little rich girl' to Onde who was refusing to eat her food. Onde had originally come to stay with the artist for six months but remained for the seventeen and a half years until her death. Like many of the animals in Hambling's work, Onde acts as a personification of the artist.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 90
  • Robin Gibson, Pets in Portraits, 2015, p. 132 Read entry

    For nearly two years of her life, from spring 1981 to early 1983, Maggi Hambling devoted herself almost entirely to fifteen paintings and quite as many drawings of the comedian and entertainer Max Wall. A stand-up comic and entertainer in the old vaudevillian tradition, his career had gone through the doldrums in the 1950s and early 1960s, but by the time she first met him he was, aged seventy-three, increasingly being recognised as a serious actor of considerable power, especially for his appearances in roles like Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

    In early 1981, while Maggi was Artist in Residence at the National Gallery, Max was performing in a revival of his one-man show, Aspects of Max Wall, across the Charing Cross Road at the Garrick Theatre. She went to see him twice and, bowled over, plucked up courage and wrote to him. The relationship that developed between the 35-year-old artist and the veteran vaudevillian does not, in retrospect, seem surprising to anyone who knows Maggi’s single-minded devotion to her work and to her friends. When Max asked her why she was doing all these paintings of him, she could only reply, ‘Because you inspire me.’

    The afternoon sittings and late-night drinking and eating (when he was not performing) became a regular feature of her Battersea studio, also shared by her three cats. Onde, Onde’s brother Parole and Mr Smith all put in an appearance in one or other of the widely diverse and imaginative Max Wall paintings. Max with Onde, the second in the series, is probably the least theatrical and is based on a drawing from the first sittings. During rests, Max would tell stories and jokes, do conjuring tricks and sing songs. The painting captures the moment when he had just finished singing ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’ to Onde, who had been fussy about eating her tea, the magic of the event still tangible in the air – performer and recipient united in silent reflection. Onde, who had made an earlier appearance in the National Portrait Gallery’s self-portrait by Hambling (1977-8), had originally come to stay for six months but remained for the seventeen and a half years of her life. Like many of the animals in Hambling’s work, she is here also a personification of the artist.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 638

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1981back to top

Current affairs

Prince Charles marries Lady Diana Spencer at St Paul's Cathedral. A crowd of 600,000 spectators filled the streets to catch a glimpse of the Royal couple, and 750 million viewers watched the event on television. The iconic moment came when Charles and Diana appeased the crowds by breaking royal protocol and kissing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

Art and science

Andrew Lloyd-Webber's musical Cats, based on T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, opens in the West End. The show ran for 21 years.
Brideshead Revisited, the 1945 novel by Evelyn Waugh, is adapted for television by John Mortimer. The lavish production featured an all-star cast of Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom and John Gielgud, setting the bar high for future TV costume dramas.

International

Pope John Paul II is shot by a Turkish gunman in St Peter's Square in Rome. John Paul was rushed to hospital where he recovered, and Mehmet Ali Agca was caught and sentenced to life imprisonment.
HIV AIDS is identified in five men in Los Angeles.

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