150 Artists

47/150: The Remarkable Arnaud Maggs

After Nadar: Turning Pierrot, detail, 2012. © Estate of Arnaud Maggs, Courtesy of Susan Hobbs Gallery

Renowned photographer Arnaud Maggs (b: 1926 Montreal) was at the top of his career when he died in 2012 at the age of 86.  The National Gallery of Canada had just opened a major retrospective covering four decades of his work. And a few days before that exhibition opened, he had won the prestigious $50,000 Scotiabank Photography Prize.

64 Portrait Studies, 1976 – 1978, gelatin silver prints, 15 7/8 x 15 7/8″ each (installation view: 67 x 271 5/8″)

In 1973, when he was 47 and a successful graphic designer, illustrator and fashion photographer, Maggs decided to become an artist. The production of his first major work, 64 Portrait Studies (1976-1978), laid the foundation for an artistic practice that brought him international recognition.

Scrapbook (3), 2009, chromogenic print, 1/5, 48.5 x 67.5 cm. Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre, 2010. Photo: André Beneteau

Throughout his practice, Maggs photographed and documented typological systems, particularly numbers in sequential order, paper ephemera and inventories of labels. The work above (on exhibition at the McLaren Art Centre through Nov. 3, 2019)  is from a four-page photographic work selected from scrapbooks begun by Maggs in 1975.

Scrapbook (3)

“Together they represent an intimate archive of ephemera—including luggage tags, transportation tickets and drawings—revealing Maggs’ sustained interest in how we collect, organize and cherish mementos” – McLaren Art Centre.

Maggs’ preoccupation with the classification of objects, letters and images fueled his work. His creativity was extraordinary. For example, he was inspired by an 1855 series of photographs that Félix Nadar took of Pierrot, a celebrated pantomime artist. Not long before he died, “Maggs ‘restaged’ these photographs but with himself as the sitter,” gallery owner Susan Hobbs explained in an article in Canadian Art. (see more on the After Nadar series, above and here)

Maggs adopted photography as an artistic tool to document people and objects. The history of photography, archival research and process, were all-significant to him. As was his relationship with artist Spring Hurlbut. The 2013 documentary Spring & Arnaud (trailer above) immerses the viewer in a world where art and life are indivisible and where the couple’s devotion to each other is matched only by their dedication to their own work.

Notification XIII, 1996, chromogenic prints, 15 3/4 x 20″ each (Installation view: 120 1/2 x 519 5/8″)

Maggs remains best known for works in grids or patterns, including death notices, or public signs, such as his hotel series (here).  His legacy is his stark, brilliant portraiture, which includes Canadian notables such as Anne Murray, Irving Layton, Yousuf Karsh and Leonard Cohen.

Arnaud Maggs estate, website here.

National Gallery of Canada, here and here.

A Canadian Art feature, here.

The CBC obituary, here.


This is #47 in the series 150 Artists.

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