The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

Advanced Collection search

Max Wall ('Max with Onde')

© National Portrait Gallery, London

 Like voting
is closed

Thanks for Liking

Please Like other favourites!
If they inspire you please support our work.

Buy a print Make a donation Close
  • Buy a print
  • Use this image
  • ShareShare this

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.


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.

Tell us more back to top

Can you tell us more about this portrait? Spotted an error, information that is missing (a sitter’s life dates, occupation or family relationships, or a date of portrait for example) or do you know anything that we don't know? If you have information to share please complete the form below.

If you require information from us, please use our Archive enquiry service. You can buy a print of most illustrated portraits. Select the portrait of interest to you, then look out for a Buy a Print button. Prices start at £6 for unframed prints, £25 for framed prints. If you wish to license this image, please use our Rights and Images service.

Please note that we cannot provide valuations.

We digitise over 8,000 portraits a year and we cannot guarantee being able to digitise images that are not already scheduled.

What can you tell us?close

There are occasions when we are unsure of the identity of a sitter or artist, their life dates, occupation or have not recorded their family relationships. Sometimes we have not recorded the date of a portrait. Do you have specialist knowledge or a particular interest about any aspect of the portrait or sitter or artist that you can share with us? We would welcome any information that adds to and enhances our information and understanding about a particular portrait, sitter or artist.


How do you know this? Please could you let us know your source of information.

* Permission to publish (Privacy information)
Privacy Informationclose

The National Portrait Gallery will NOT use your information to contact you or store for any other purpose than to investigate or display your contribution. By ticking permission to publish you are indicating your agreement for your contribution to be shown on this collection item page. Please note your email address will not be displayed on the page nor will it be used for any marketing material or promotion of any kind.

Please ensure your comments are relevant and appropriate. Your contributions must be polite and with no intention of causing trouble. All contributions are moderated.

Your Emailclose

Contributions are moderated. We'll need your email address so that we can follow up on the information provided and contact you to let you know when your contribution has been published.