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Ragless, Maxwell Christopher (Max) (1901–1981)

by Betty Snowden

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Maxwell Ragless, by Anthea Wieneke, 1958

Maxwell Ragless, by Anthea Wieneke, 1958

State Library of Queensland, 165363

Maxwell Christopher Richard Ragless (1901-1981), artist, was born on 10 August 1901 at Edwardstown, Adelaide, second of four surviving children of South Australian-born Christopher Henry Ragless, farmer, and his Scottish-born wife Jane Young, née Maxwell.  Educated at Kyre College, Max showed artistic talent from an early age.  He trained as a woolclasser and, from 1921, ran his own vineyard, Abercrombie, South Road Estate (later Clovelly Park), while also working on his parents’ property nearby.  Developing engineering skills, he designed and built workshop tools, farm equipment, motorbikes and cars, and built an aeroplane.  He also wove wool fabrics on a handloom that he designed and made himself.  In his spare time he taught himself to paint.

On 3 December 1932 at St Columba’s Church of England, Hawthorn, Ragless married Estelle Mary Alexander, a talented craftswoman, who encouraged him to concentrate on his painting.  In 1936 at the Royal Society of Arts’ Gallery, Adelaide, he exhibited etchings and aquatints; they were to comprise some of his finest work and were printed in small editions.  A Sydney Morning Herald reviewer in 1938 described his landscapes, exhibited at the Grosvenor Galleries, as resembling those of Sir Hans Heysen in both subject matter and style.

In 1941-43 Ragless was a camouflage officer with the Department of Home Security.  From April to December 1945 he was an official war artist, based in South Australia, painting scenes at uranium mines, the Loveday internment camp, the Whyalla shipyards and the iron and steel works at Iron Knob.  That work reflected an understanding of engineering and showed an eye for detail.  He won prizes in Victoria, at Ballarat (1944) and at Bendigo and Ferntree Gully (1945).  After the war he painted mainly landscapes.  In 1951 he retired from grape growing and farming to devote himself to painting full time.  About 1956 the family moved to Unley Park.

A natural draughtsman, Ragless was interested in form and colour and the manner in which light played on the landscape.  He made many painting trips to the outback.  Working quickly, he could produce a complex pencil or crayon drawing in fifteen minutes.  He often experimented with materials:  for example, he mixed oil paint with kerosene rather than linseed oil to produce the effect of watercolour.  Laying on paint thickly, he did not waste a line or brush stroke; he claimed that 'every brush stroke is a drawing stroke'.

Ragless was a member of the Royal South Australian Society of Arts, the Royal Art Society of New South Wales and the Victorian Artists’ Society.  In 1959 he won the H. C. Richards memorial prize, awarded by the trustees of the Queensland Art Gallery.  Of medium height, he was quiet and modest, calm and self-assured, with a focused gaze and a kindly face.  Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, he died on 4 January 1981 in North Adelaide and was cremated.  His work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, and in all State galleries.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 May 1938, p 8
  • Kalori, June 1972, p 3
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 6 January 1981, p 3
  • AWM93 50/4/2/92 (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information

Citation details

Betty Snowden, 'Ragless, Maxwell Christopher (Max) (1901–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ragless-maxwell-christopher-max-14285/text25350, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 7 December 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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