Maxwell Bates, 1906-1980

Maxwell Bates was an influential Canadian artist; he brought early Modernism to Western Canada through his painting, printmaking, architecture and poetry.

Born and raised in Calgary Alberta, Bates started painting at a young age but found little success in his conservative hometown. In 1931, at the age of 25, Bates moved to England and supported himself as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman while he showed at the Redfern and Bloomsbury Galleries.

In 1940 Bates enlisted and fought in the Second World War, however he was almost immediately captured and spent the next five years as a prisoner of war at Thuringia, Germany. Bates wrote about this experience in his 1978 book A Wilderness of Days.

Bates returned to Calgary in 1946 and joined his father’s architecture firm. During this time he met fellow modernists Janet Mitchell, Jim and Marion Nicoll and Jock Macdonald. Together they formed the Calgary Group, adding the potter Luke Lindoe and others over time. Bates also produced solo shows in 1947 and 1948 in Calgary.

Bates was an influential teacher and figure and along with John Snow brought the first lithographic press to Alberta. In the mid 1950s Bates once again created controversy when Girl With the Yellow Hair was sold to the Allied Arts Centre in Calgary, its modernism was not well received.

In 1962, Bates moved to Saanich, British Columbia after suffering a stroke. In nearby Victoria he would meet Herbert Siebner, Myfanwy Pavelic, Karl Spreitz, Richard Ciccimarra; artists who shared his passion for modern art. Together they formed the Society of Limners in 1971, an informal group of like-minded modernists who supported and exhibited together. 

Bates showed regularly at Vancouver’s Bau-Xi Gallery and Calgary’s Canadian Art Galleries. In 1967 he was awarded the Canadian Centennial Medal. He received an LLD from the University of Calgary in 1971, and in 1973 a major exhibition of his work was held at the Vancouver Art Gallery. He was awarded the order of Canada in 1980, shortly before his death. His work is represented in numerous public collections in Canada and abroad, including the Tate Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada. 

Bates died in Victoria, BC on the 14th of September 1980 at the age of 74.



Alberta Society of Artists (1947)
Federation of Canadian Artists (1947)
Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colours (1951)
Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (Member 1951 Life Member 1963)
Canadian Group of Painters (1957)
B.C. Society of Artists (Assoc. 1965, Member 1967)
The Limners (Victoria B.C.)(President 1971)
Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (ARCA 1961; RCA 1971)


Selected Collections
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, ON
Canada Council Art Bank, Ottawa, ON
Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa, ON
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON
Ottawa Art Gallery, Ottawa, ON
MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, SK
Nickle Arts Museum, Calgary, AB
Glenbow Museum, Calgary, AB
City of Calgary Art Collection, Calgary, AB
The Feckless Collection, Vancouver, BC
Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria, BC
Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery, Victoria, BC
Tate Gallery, London, UK
Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland, NZ

Maxwell Bates, Photo by Karl Spreitz

Maxwell Bates, Photo by Karl Spreitz