James Scott Maxwell (1845-1922) – Commercial Artist

British Painter, James Scott Maxwell, or James Maxwell, remains an elusive artistic entity, owing to his hazy lineage and birth details. His works though covered a narrow subject range of warships and British scenery, his works carried the signs of immense brilliance such as in “Villefranche 188,” a drawing of a fleet of ships. Most of his ‘paintings’ were actually small water color or the modest sketches of steamers, like “Clyde,” “Duchess of York,” and “Ben Lemmond,” all carried out in small 7 by 9 inch frames or in slightly larger moulds.

James’ almost entire repertoire seemed concentrated on the seascapes of Pre WW-I British Seagoing Saga of Steamers and the Ladies of war. The works embody a form of art known popularly as British or Continental Watercolors. The type was more or less a technical ‘Photo Realistic’ drawing, aimed at factual representation, rather than artistic creativity and mastery. Maxwell’s drawings of American Steamships, such as “St. Paul” and “Haverford” are such technical sketches, which are powerful attempts at photographic reproduction.

James Scott seems to have been prolific from 1875 to the early 1900s, as per most of his dated sketches. In addition, it seems that a majority of his works could be commissions from steamship companies. The artistic merits of James Scott’s works are doubtful, as they display a stiffness of form, found in most “commissioned” watercolor artists who documented the British Empire. His “Duchess of Devonshire” is a case in point where the opaqueness of the medium adds on to the virtual inertia of execution, making an essentially fluid picture static.

Though more than 200 sketches survive James Maxwell, however, there seems to be no variation of the theme, seemingly giving the perception that he painted only seascapes and ships. Even his geographical reach was limited to the port towns of the British Isles, like Kenningston. Maxwell seems to have just painted ships, rooted to a probable fact he might have lived all his life in coastal belt only. It is difficult to bracket Maxwell without sounding critical. He could be called a commercial artist in the modern mould whose work does slightly manage to reach respectability or the individuality of a genuine art aficionado. James can be granted a strong benefit of doubt, as his contemporary ‘commercial’ artists were no better. Compared to the anonymous British watercolor painters who painted the “Raj” in India or “British Overseas Assets in the Colonies,” Maxwell and his peers stand a wee bit shorter.

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