Paul Maze French, 1887-1979

Paul Lucien Maze was an Anglo-French painter often known as "The last of the Post Impressionists" and was one of the great artists of his generation. The subjects for his paintings include French maritime scenes, busy New York City scenes and the English countryside in a variety of mediums including oils, watercolours and pastels. Maze in noted for his quintessentially English themes such as regattas, sporting events and ceremonial celebrations such as Goodwood racing, Henley Regatta, Trooping the Colour and yachting at Cowes. 

 

Maze met Winston Churchill in the trenches during the First World War and their shared love of painting led to a life-long friendship. Maze became Churchill's artist mentor and encouraged him to develop his drawing and painting techniques. 

 

Born into a French family, Maze’s father was a thriving tea merchant and art collector whose circle of artist friends included Claude Monet, Raoul Dufy, Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Maze learnt the basics of painting from Pissarro and as a young boy he sketched on the beach with Dufy. At 12 years of age Maze was sent to school in Southampton in England to perfect his English, and whilst there he fell in love with all things English.

 

After leaving school, he worked for his father’s importing firm in Hamburg and Liverpool before later moving to Canada for a year and then spending a short time as a sailor. Upon the outbreak of the First World War, Maze returned to France and attempted to join the French army but was deemed unfit. However, determined to serve, Maze went to Le Havre to offer his services to the British and became an interpreter with the British Cavalry Regiment – The Royal Scots Greys. Maze narrowly avoided being captured by the Germans during the retreat from Mons, but was taken prisoner by a British unit. Due to his unofficial position, lack of documentation and his odd uniform the British were led to think he was a spy and he was sentenced to death. Maze’s release was secured by an officer of the Royal Scots Greys who happened to pass by and recognise him whilst he was on his way to face the firing squad. Maze then joined the staff of General Hubert Gough, the work was very dangerous and Maze was injured three times in four years. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Military Medal by the British, and the Croix de Guerre and Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur by the French. He detailed his experiences of the action that he had seen on the Western Front in his book, A Frenchman in Khaki (1934). The foreword for which was written by his good friend Churchill.

After the end of the First World War, Maze immersed himself in the Parisian art scene and his friends included André Derain, André Dunoyer de Segonzac, Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard. Vuillard had a great impact on Maze and encouraged him to use pastels which he felt best suited the style, personality and freshness in his work. Although Maze still used oils and watercolours, pastel became his preferred medium and it was this talent and skill that led him to global recognition.

 

Maze married Margaret Nelson, the widow of a wartime friend, Captain Thomas Nelson, in 1921 and they moved to London. Here he painted many scenes of London from pomp and pageantry to the fogs and dismal back streets and he exhibited in many major art galleries in London, America and Paris. In 1939, Maze had his first New York City exhibition and in the foreword to the catalogue Winston Churchill wrote, “His great knowledge of painting and draughtsmanship have enabled him to perfect his remarkable gift. With the fewest of strokes, he can create an impression at once true and beautiful. Here is no toiling seeker after preconceived effects, but vivid and powerful interpreter to us of the forces and harmony of Nature.”

 

Maze served with the British Home Guard and then as a personal Staff Officer to Sir Arthur Travers Harris during World War II. He competed in art competitions at the 1948 Summer Olympics but did not win any medals. Maze divorced his first wife in 1949 and in 1950 he married Jessie Lawrie, a Scottish woman who became the subject of many of his paintings. The couple settled in Treyford, West Sussex and he depicted their domestic life in many of his works. Maze stated that “Painters are born, not made” and “the greatest teacher is nature” and so it was in rural West Sussex that he concentrated on painting pastoral landscapes and scenes.

 

In 1952 Maze held his first one-man exhibition at the Wildenstein Gallery in New York and in the same year he went on to record the funeral of His Majesty King George VI. The following year he was selected as the Official Painter of Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation.

 

Maze died at his home in West Sussex, overlooking his beloved South Downs with a pastel in his hand at the age of 92.