The art of Maxwell Armfield, 1881–1972


De Profundis.

I’ve known Maxwell Armfield’s work in the past mainly for the appearance of his paintings in books of late Victorian or even Pre-Raphaelite art. His depiction of Faustine (1904), which illustrates a Swinburne poem, is probably the most popular of these, with a subject resembling Rossetti’s portraits of Jane Morris. So it’s a surprise to find his illustration work using a very different, more open style based on Ancient Greek art and (possibly) Classical enthusiasts such as John Flaxman. Among the online examples, the redoubtable Internet Archive has a few book downloads available including a volume of Armfield’s rather tepid poetry, The Hanging Garden, and other verse (1914), which nonetheless includes the fine illustrations shown here. In addition there’s a curious fable by Vernon Lee, The Ballet of the Nations; a Present-day Morality (1915) in which Death stages a ballet (aka another war) to decimate humanity, and a short book Rhythmic Shape; A Text-book of Design (1920), Armfield’s guide to art and design theory.


“Out of the East he came.”

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26 thoughts on “The art of Maxwell Armfield, 1881–1972”

  1. I have what seems like a very old book “Stories from Hans Chrisian Andersen” published by The Temple Press, Printers, Letchworth,( no date), translated by Mrs E Lucas and illustrated by Maxwell Armfield. The illustrations are delightful! I wondered if you could assist in advising me as to whether the book is worth any money, and even if not, what should I do with it? I live in South Africa, but travel to the UK quite often. Thanks

  2. Hi Anne. I only write about things I like, I’m not a book dealer. If you want to know the going rate of a book I’d advise browsing Abebooks. I doubt that you’ll find anyone online interested in buying a book unless they can see the volume in person, photos don’t show you the overall condition, whether pages are missing/damaged, etc.

  3. My aunt Evelyn Richmond was a friend of Maxwell Armfield and I have inherited several letters to her from him. Are they of any interest to you or anybody else? They are mainly about mutual friends but there are one or two references to his pictures, inlcuding one of a vase of anemones which he painted for her and which we still have.

  4. Hi Brigid. I’m mainly interested in Armfield’s drawings but if any further visitors wish to discuss his letters with you I’ll be happy to forward their contact details.

  5. hi brigid, am very interested in anything to do with maxwell armfiled, particularly his quasi-esoteric interests. if you have any info or letters/poems etc concerning this area of armfields life and activity (ie post 1940) please get in touch:

  6. Hi
    I’ve tried for over 35 years to find out what the painting by Maxwell Armfield on the Fleetwood Mac album “Then Play On” is called. Any infomation as to where this art is located and some history would be very much appreciated.

  7. Hi Craig. I wasn’t aware of that cover until now. It’s not an illustration I’ve seen elsewhere.

  8. Hi John
    In 1973 I read that Armfield had pass way the year before and as a small homage to him (and Peter Green) I ratioed the album cover out 4 to 1 and made a 4 feet by 6 feet tapestry of that Armfield painting. It took six months to make.

  9. Hi John,
    This is not about Maxwell Armfield but here is the reason why I am posting. I am writing a biography of the actress Margaret Leighton. I have been doing a lot of researching, including meeting members of her family and getting in touch with some fellow players such as Paul Scofield . Trying to get in touch,( from France), with some more friends and connections, I spotted that MS Brigid Wells- who was a friend of hers during her years at the Old Vic in the Forties, was posting in your site. I am wondering if you would mind helping me and passing my email to her, just in case she would like to contribute.
    Thank you very much for any time you would spend on this.
    Muriel Lhermé

  10. Hi
    I am a cousin of Maxwell’s and by my uncle,Stuart Armfield who studied Tempera with him I have been given one of Maxwell’s sketch books.
    I would like to place this in some institution which would look after it and wondered if anyone knows of a MA archive any where.
    I did meet Maxwell a few times and he was a very interesting man.

  11. Craig,

    I am in precisely the same boat as you. I find it odd that it should be so difficult to find the name of the piece or other images…

  12. Stroud Theatre Company are presenting a new play about Constance Smedley ( and Maxwell Armfield) called ” The Amazing and Preposterous Constance Smedley” by Frank Hatt at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham from 11th-13th march 2010. We particularly focus in on Constance and Max’s time in Minchinhampton, Stroud after they are married. Please refer to the website ( for further information.
    Hope you can make the show!

  13. Hi,
    It’s wonderful to have come across this page celebrating some of Maxwell Armfield’s work! I completed an MPhil research thesis recently on the Victorian artist Simeon Solomon and I have just started a new research project into a number of artists (especially Maxwell Armfield) connected with the Birmingham School of Art in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    I would be most grateful for the opportunity to read Brigid Wells’ Armfield letters and see her flower painting. I would also like to see Martin Woodhead’s Armfield sketchbook and talk to him about the artist – I have a suggestion to make about an institution which might look after the sketchbook and also use it to investigate, interpret and make Armfield’s work better known.

    I’m so sorry to have missed the play about Constance Smedley and Maxwell Armfield, but would like to get in contact with the writer and anyone involved in the production who could throw more light on the Armfields for me!

    John, I would really appreciate it if you would pass on my e-mail address to Brigid Wells, Martin Woodhead and Chris Garner. It would be great if you all got in touch …

  14. Hi John,
    Thank you very much for your help. Already someone has contacted me and increased my knowledge of the artist! I’m new to blogging and am amazed at how this is working! Thanks again.

  15. hi everyone, relative to the ‘maxwell armfield’ and constance thread:

    im researching a book about armfields esoteric interests and was at west wycombe to see constances grave, a marvellous ‘font’ type memorial with panels inlaid to the stone reflecting maxwells theories of the golden section/dynamic symmetry.
    does anyone on here know that after constance died maxwell delved deeply into the occult and produced a very obscure book of poems with a design on the front resembling the plan of sir francis dashwoods ‘hgell fire caves’ at west wycombe bucks??
    id like to speak to both martin and aileen about their armfield connections and studies.
    i can be contacted through

  16. Like Craig I too have searched in vain for the name and date of the artwork on the ‘Then Play On’ Fleetwood Mac album (1969-1970) attributed to Maxwell Armfield.

    If there is any knowledge of this work, please send info to:

    Thank you.

  17. hi to martin woodhead:

    ref archives of armfield: the tate gallery has a collection of boxes left to them by A.A.Ballard, materials from armfield dating from the early years to his death. if the sketchbook covers the period of his stay at west wycombe (1939-1942) i would be very interested in seeing any images from it!
    alternatively if it is a wwest wycombe sketchbook then the museum at high wycombe may wish to purchase the sketchbook.

    very best wishes


  18. I wanted to follow-up on my previous comment by pointing out that the art work on the Fleetwood Mac album cover from 1969, “Then Play On” may be the most widely distributed and viewed single work in Armfield’s entire catalog. It is then interesting and ironic that no one seems to know anything about the work. The only additional information from the original album printing is that it is from the John Jesse Collection, whatever that is.

  19. We have a really lovely watercolour by Maxwell Armfield, it is signed and named The Wandle at Mitcham. We think that it is probably 1920’s from the dress of a woman dressed in red in the painting. We can publish a photo, but would be intersted if any-one knows anthing about how the picture came to be painted.

  20. Re. the question about the Fleetwood Mac album cover, there is a 1917 article about Maxwell Armfield which includes a photo of the Fleetwood Mac cover.

    Armfield wrote that it was a mural especially created for a London house. The murals’ colours came from the furnishings of the house’s dining room. No title however, but I’ve copied below the relevant section of the article, and you can see the mural here (the Fleetwood Mac cover has a detail of the whole mural)

    “Domesticated Mural Painting” by Maxwell Armfield, in ‘The Countryside magazine and suburban life, February 1917.

    Armfield writes “The illustration here is a mural designed for the dining room of a London mansion. The windows had been hung with a heavy plum-coloured brocade that, in spite of the white panelling, made the room rather dark and fragmentary in general effect. The mural was placed in a large panel above the fireplace. The colours of the room were used in it; the plum colour was heightened into magenta in the rhododendrons, the white was lowered a little in the horse to a pearl grey, and the sky was a yellow used in the curtains, also lowered a little in tone and enriched with gold pattern. This scheme had the effect of reconciling the various elements in a satisfactory way and gave the impression to the whole room of having been lived in.”

  21. Julia:

    Thank you SO MUCH for that info! It explains why the work has been difficult to track down. I wonder what became of it eventually, and how Fleetwood Mac (or their record company) came to choose that as the album cover.

    Great work digging that up! Cheers

  22. Hi There

    This is really in response to Aileen Naylor and your request for furthe info into the Armfields. I’m Constance Smedley’s Great Great nephew, My Great Grandfather being her brother William (known as Billy). The play you make reference to about Constance was written by Frank Hatt, using letters sent from my Great Grandmother (Olive) to Billy’s father. Which I was extremely pleased to have attended. These letters are now in my possession (Frank kindly gifted these back to the family) I’d happily provide any details you require for your paper.

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