Rudi Lange, Informal portrait of former Official War Artist Max Ragless in his Kensington Gardens studio, 1967, reference number: P03503.001 Rudi Lange, Informal portrait of former Official War Artist Max Ragless in his Kensington Gardens studio, 1967,
P03503.001

Date of birth: 10 August 1901
Place of birth: Adelaide, South Australia
Date of death: 4 January 1981
Place of death: Adelaide, South Australia

Maxwell ‘Max’ Christopher Richard Ragless attended Kyre College (now Scotch College) in Adelaide where he received his only formal artistic training by teacher, Maude Priest.  After leaving school, Ragless studied wool classing and spent time in regional South Australia working on sheep stations.  Throughout the 1930s, he worked in vineyards while also pursuing his artistic career, strongly influenced by the Australian landscaper painters, Hans Heysen and Tom Roberts.

With the onset of the Second World War, Ragless took on a role as a camouflage officer with the Department of Home Security.  In early 1944 the Australian War Memorial acquired six of his drawings of RAAF activities in South Australia. He was appointed an official war artist in March 1945, commissioned to the Australian home front to record the mobilisation of primary and civil industries to war-related production.

During his appointment, Ragless spent considerable time at aircraft factories and hangars recording the repair, assembly and manufacture of trainer and fighter aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force and the Empire Air Training Scheme.  He travelled to factories in Bankstown, New South Wales, Fishermen’s Bend, Victoria and the manufacturing hub of General Motors Holden Ltd in South Australia. 

Ragless also went to Whyalla in South Australia which was a major industrial port focusing on wartime mining and shipbuilding, see in Ore loading jetty. He visited the inland mines at Iron Knob and Iron Monarch to draw the hard toil of mining ore. In a later trip, Ragless proceeded further north to Mount Painter where uranium mining had been revived.  He made two paintings of the mining activities, observing the deep cuts and blast holes in the landscape.

Max Ragless, ‘Spray painting an RAAF Airspeed Oxford’, 1945, reference number: ART23399 Max Ragless, Spray painting an RAAF Airspeed Oxford, 1945,
ART23399

He captured the industrial activity at Australia’s busy naval ports, from the huge freighters in mid-construction at Whyalla; to Port Adelaide where he drew shipwrights building 85-foot wooden ships for use by the Australian Military Forces. In July 1945, Ragless went to Sydney where he documented the recently built Graving Dock at Garden Island Dockyard where Allied vessels were refitted, repaired or converted.  

In contrast to wartime industry, Ragless also depicted the agricultural activities at the Loveday Internment Group.  The camp detained mainly German, Italian and Japanese internees, who tended to piggeries, poultry, vegetable production and crops of pyrethrum daisies and opium poppies. Several paintings emerged from this trip including the picturesque, though somewhat romantic, images of flowering crops and internees quietly engaged at work in Harvesting pyrethrum, Loveday Internment Group.

Ragless concluded his appointment with the Memorial as an official war artist on 31 December 1945 and was then re-instated for one month, in May 1946.  He was a strong technical drawer, with a good eye for capturing the complex, yet ordered compositions that construction sites presented.  In contrast, his natural inclination for landscape is apparent in his paintings, which utilise an impressionistic style with a strong colour palette.  After the war, Ragless resumed his life in Adelaide as an artist until his death in 1981.