THE EDUCATION AND TRAINING OF WILLIAM S. MAXWELL
Rosalind M. Pepall
As the younger brother of a practising architect, William Maxwell (cat. I b) had an ideal introduction to the profession. From early in Edward's practice, "Willie" was very much a presence behind the scenes. His hours of work for the firm are noted from October 1894 to September 1895 and again from May 1898 to October 1901 in Edward's records of his draftsmen.1 These records indicate the buildings in which he was involved, and many drawings are initialed WSM. By the end of the 1890s his hand is evident in the fine decorative work rendered in detail on the architectural plans and drawings for the buildings of his brother's firm.
It was undoubtedly with Edward's encouragement that William went to Boston to further his training in a large architectural office. Between September 1895 and May 1898 he was in Boston working for Winslow & Wetherell, 2 a long-established practice run by Walter T. Winslow (1843-1909) and George H. Wetherell (1854-1930).3 In a letter to his brother, written on Winslow & Wetherell letterhead, William gave a glimpse of his work: "I have been working a good deal with Henry Forbes Bigelow lately and am now carrying out a large country house for him, he seems very satisfied with my work ... he is a very clever young fellow (29 or 30) and knows more about planning, designing etc. than anyone else in the office.”4
Henry F. Bigelow (1867-1929) would become a partner in the firm in 1898. A biographical note on Bigelow states that "in the opinion of one of his contemporaries, Mr. Bigelow probably contributed more to the creation of charming and distinguished house interiors than any one person of his time.”5 William Maxwell's own interest and talent in domestic interior design may well have been awakened by Bigelow.6
Winslow & Wetherell was also well known for its large hotels and commercial buildings.7 One hotel, the Touraine, completed in 1897, was a major commission for the firm during William's years in Boston and was a project in which Bigelow participated. William saved among his personal papers a newspaper clipping on the hotel, suggesting that he too may have been involved in its design.8
William made notes and drawings in his sketchbooks of Boston buildings and of his trips to nearby towns such as Marblehead, Massachusetts, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.9 He made notes on the Boston Public Library, which opened in 1895, the year he arrived in the city. The library, designed by McKim, Mead & White, is a key monument in American architecture. In the aftermath of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the building stimulated an interest in Beaux-Arts classicism, and some of the best American sculptors and artists decorated the building in the spirit of the so-called American Renaissance.10
The evenings that William spent in drawing classes and in social gatherings at the Boston Architectural Club also provided him with an opportunity to learn about the latest ideas and developments in American architecture.11 At the turn of the century the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris was having a major impact on American architecture: many of the leading architects in the United States had studied there, and Winslow & Wetherell was run by graduates of the French school. William's enthusiasm for French architecture was already evident in 1896 when he wrote to Edward about his purchase of the Concours Publics, a magazine that illustrated winning competition plans for French government commissions.12 Upon his return to Montreal in May 1898, clearly excited by French Beaux-Arts models, William delighted in rendering the cartouches, trophies and swags on the façade of Edward Maxwell's London & Lancashire Life Assurance building.13
By this time William had set his sights on Paris. He left for Europe in late summer 1899 and by September was in Paris, where he filled his sketchbooks with scenes of the city and of his travels farther afield (cat. 6f).14 He lived at 83 Boulevard Montparnasse, the same address as the Canadian painter Maurice Cullen.15 William wrote to the secretary of the Province of Quebec Association of Architects in February 1900: "Paris is delightful and I wish I could prolong my stay for years."16
Although William was not registered as a student at the École des Beaux-Arts, he was admitted into the atelier of Jean-Louis Pascal (1837-1920), a leading Beaux-Arts architect closely associated with the École.17 It was in the atelier, under the eye of the patron, that the student learned planning and design and carried out projects.18 As architectural historian Richard Chafee explains: "These large ateliers were not architectural offices; they were private schools of architecture."19 Young French students, "les aspirants", who wished to try the École's rigorous entrance exams would spend as long as two years preparing for them in an atelier.20 Some American architects with previous education were also admitted to the ateliers to round off their training before taking up practice at home.21 When William set out for Paris at the age of twenty-four, he probably never intended to embark on the lengthy period of study required to graduate from the École des Beaux-Arts,
In Jean-Louis Pascal's atelier, William would have learned a logical and systematic approach to planning. One of Pascal's students recalled that the master "urged logic, not intuition. He taught simplification: rational plans and decorous elevations. His ideal was architecture that was and looked distinguished.”22 This training served William well in later years when the Maxwell firm entered design competitions for some of Canada's most important and complex public buildings.
William's talent as a painter and his love of drawing made him an ideal student of the Beaux-Arts method. The École des Beaux-Arts considered the architect as an artist, and William would have flourished with the emphasis placed on skilled draftsmanship and beautifully executed drawings and plans. The exquisite study of a nude woman that William executed either in Paris or in Boston shows his facility in drawing (cat. 6a). William would have been inspired by the impressive renderings the architecture students prepared for the monthly and annual competitions. As he said himself, "The exhibitions, in a large hall at the École, exert a powerful influence; they get a man out of a rut, stimulate his imagination and broaden his point of view. The effect of many solutions of a problem all intelligently worked out cannot be other than broadly educative.”23
Two of William’s own watercolour studies from this period are typical of the drawings prepared by the students. His renderings of the front and side elevations of a proposed "salle des fêtes" (cat. 6b) are modelled on the quintessential Beaux-Arts building: the Paris Opera, completed in 1875 by Charles Garnier.24 The emphasis on symmetry, classical precedent and the creation of a grand public monument replete with symbolic sculpture was in keeping with the ideals of Beaux-Arts design. William's ability to create such elaborately detailed and lavishly colourful drawings made him well suited to prepare renderings for the Maxwell firm.
Another watercolour, depicting an opulent "state barge" bedecked with flags, exemplifies the type of design the École students were asked to create for prizes in decoration (cat. 6d). William may have painted this watercolour as a practice exercise, following the rules for the competition of the Prix Rougevin, awarded for rendering of ornament in an architectural context. In 1900 this prize was given for "La Décoration arrière d'un navire.”25
William had the good fortune to be in Paris during the Exposition Universelle of 1900. He was able to visit the two splendid Beaux-Arts buildings constructed especially for the exhibition, the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais .26 He would also have seen Art nouveau design at its most advanced state in the decorative art exhibits.
In July 1900, William was travelling in the north of France, through Normandy and Brittany, and at the end of the summer he went to Italy to study Renaissance architecture - an essential part of any Beaux-Arts education. In August and September, William sketched in Venice, Padua and Milan, and then went south to Florence and Rorne.27
In late 1900, when William returned to Montreal, Edward Maxwell's office was busy with a number of important commissions. Once again "Willie" was at work in the drafting room. Many of the drawings of interior elevations and carved exterior ornament for the sumptuous house of Charles R. Hosmer are in William's distinctive hand. With free, loose pen strokes he sketched the decorative details of mouldings and panels (fig. 4). Because of William's outstanding draftsmanship and his interest in ornament, Edward relied on his brother to carry out designs for furniture, plaster, carved woodwork and other fittings.
William's period of study at the Atelier Pascal, though short, came at a critical time in his career. Paris put the finishing touch to his maturity as an architect who had already had years of experience in Montreal and Boston. His Beaux-Arts training in Boston and Paris brought valuable additional skills and prestige to the Maxwell firm.
1 [Draftsmen’s Hours per Client Book K, 1894-1901], MA, Series C. Resume Text
2 One of William’s rare extant letters from Boston, written to his cousin Bess, is dated September 11, 1896 (private collection, Montreal). He is first listed in The Boston City Directory of 1896 as a “draughtsman” at 3 Hamilton Place, which was the office of Winslow & Wetherell. Resume Text
3 Winslow & Wetherell were successors to the practice of the prominent architect Nathaniel Bradlee, with whom they became partners. The records of the Winslow & Wetherell firm do not appear to have been preserved (information from the Boston Athenaeum, Boston). Resume Text
4 The date on this letter (private collection, Montreal) appears to be March 16, 1895; however, judging from the number of hours William worked for Edward in March 1895, it would have been virtually impossible for him to have been in Boston then. Therefore the year in all likelihood is 1896. Resume Text
5 Henry F Withey and Elsie Rathburn Withey, Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased) (Los Angeles: New Age, 1956), p. 57. Resume Text
6 Bigelow exhibited some drawings in the PQAA exhibition in Montreal in 1896, most probably on the recommendation of W. S. Maxwell (The Gazette [Montreal], October 9, 1896, in MMFA Library Scrapbook, vol. 4, p.72). Resume Text
7 The Steinert Hall office, showroom and concert hall complex with a Beaux-Arts façade on Boylston Street (1896), and the Procter Building on Bedford Street (1897) are two existing works by the firm. Resume Text
8 Boston Herald, April 13, 1896. Resume Text
9 Seventeen of William's sketchbooks still exist in the collection of his daughter, Mary Maxwell Rabbani. The earliest date from 1893-1894 in Montreal, and they continue throughout his career until 1937. Two remain from his Boston Years, Resume Text
10 See Richard Guy Wilson, McKim, Mead & White, Architects (New York: Rizzoli, 1983), pp, 134-145. Resume Text
11 William Maxwell's participation in the Boston Architectural Club has been discussed in Rosalind M. Pepall, Construction d’un musée Beaux-Arts/Building a Beaux-Arts Museum, exhib. cat. (Montreal Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1986), pp. 44-45. Resume Text
12 Letter of March 16, 1895 (but see note 4 regarding date). Resume Text
13 Project no. 171.0, "Detail of St. John Street Dormer", signed and dated 26-9-98; “Detail of St. James Street Pavilion", signed and dated 20-9-98. Resume Text
14 A sketch in one of his notebooks is dated August 23, 1899, Edinburgh. From the period of September 1899 to April 1900, William's sketchbooks are filled with drawings of buildings in, among other places, Paris, Versailles, Fontainebleau, Reims and Tours. Resume Text
15 Sketchbook, 1899-1900, “W.S. Maxwell/London 1899/Paris 203 Boulevard Raspail” changed to "83 Boulevard Montparnasse", and Sylvia Antoniou, Maurice Cullen (Kingston, Out.: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 1982), p 15. Resume Text
16 Letter from W.S. Maxwell to G. A. Monette, Paris, February 9, 1900, PQAA correspondence, 06-P-124-1, chemise 2, ANQM. Resume Text
17 William S. Maxwell's name is not found among the lists of architecture students at the École des Beaux-Arts preserved at the Archives Nationales in Paris: AJ52-240, Registres matricules des élèves de la section d'architecture 1800-1925"; A152-248, Registre d'inscription des élèves dans les ateliers de peinture, sculpture, architecture, ateliers extérieurs 1874-1945"; and A152-470, "Élèves étrangers 1878-1928". William Maxwell's training in Paris has been discussed in Pepall, 1986, pp. 45-49. Resume Text
18 For a thorough discussion of École des Beaux-Arts teaching methods, see Richard Chafee, "The Teaching of Architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts", in Arthur Drexler, The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1977), pp. 61-109. Resume Text
19 Ibid., p. 89. Resume Text
20 Ibid., p.82, and Edmond Delaire, Les architectes élèves de l’École des Beaux-Arts 1793-1907 (Paris: Librairie de la construction moderne, 1907), p, 212. Resume Text
21 The American Society of Beaux-Arts Architects, formed by graduates of the École, was also open to those who had been in a Paris atelier for at least one year (Delaire, 1907, p, 447). Resume Text
22 Francis Swales, a former student of Pascal, quoted in Chafee, 1977, p. 96. Resume Text
23 W S. Maxwell, "Architectural Education", CAB, vol. 16 (January 1903), p. 22. Resume Text
24 This watercolour was exhibited at the AAM Spring Exhibition in March 1901 (CAB, vol. 14 [March 1901], p. 65, and vol. 14 [June 1901 ], suppl., p. 124). Resume Text
25 The winning design is illustrated in Annie Jacques, La carrière de l’architecte au XIXe siècle, Les Dossiers des Musée d'Orsay, vol. 3 (Paris: Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1986), p. 34. Resume Text
26 These two buildings must have impressed William Maxwell, because later in his career he gave a lecture to the PQAA Sketching Club on the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais (CAB, vol. 22 [March 1908], p. 15). He also had in his library Les Palais des Beaux-Arts: M Girault architecte en chef (Paris: n.d.). Resume Text
27 Two sketchbooks remain from this trip (Mary Maxwell Rabbani collection, Haifa). Both are signed and bear the two addresses 83 Boulevard Montparnasse and 188 Côte-Saint-Antoine Road. Resume Text
Cat. 1b. William Sutherland Maxwell
Cat. 6f.Sketches made in France
Cat. 6a.Figure Study
Cat.6b. Front elevation for a proposal "salle des fetes"
Cat. 6d.A State Barge
Fig. 4. W.S. Maxwell Drawing room ceiling detail for Hosmer House,undated. Montreal, McGill University, Canadian Architecture Collection.