Maxon studied at the Cooper Union between 1934 and 1938. He received his bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in 1941. He attended Harvard University where he received his master's degree in 1945 and Ph.D. in 1948 on the subject of Tintoretto. That year he accepted a position as director of the University of Kansas Art Museum in Lawrence, KS. In 1952 he moved to be director of the art museum at the Rhode Island School of Design. In 1959 Maxon was appointed director of fine arts at the Art Institute of Chicago, replacing Daniel Catton Rich. At Chicago, he was responsible for the early "blockbuster" shows, including Treasures of Versailles (1962) and Treasures of Poland (1966). He was Associate Director of the Institute between 1966 and 1972. In 1970 Maxon issued the survey catalog for the Art Institute, published by Harry N. Abrams. Shows featuring artists of the Institute's strength followed; "Paintings of Renoir," 1973 and "Paintings by Monet," 1975. In 1977, while dining in a Chicago restaurant, he choked on food and died at age 60. Maxon was a strong personality whose art disputes could some times be personal. After two caustic reviews of works by fellow renaissance scholars Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat, the scholar David Rosand (b. 1938) accused Maxon of a senseless personal vendetta.
John Moore Maxon
[dissertation] The Early Tintoretto. Harvard University, 1948; and Rishel, Joseph J. Painting in Italy in the Eighteenth Century: Rococo to Romanticism. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1970; Bronzes of India and Greater India. Providence, RI: Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, 1955; and Cunningham, Charles C., and Stam, Diedre. Rembrandt After Three Hundred Years: a Symposium, Rembrandt and his Followers. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1973; Major Works from the Collection of Nathan Cummings. Chicago: the Art Institute of Chicago, 1973; and Mayer-Thurman, Christa C., and Kavanagh, Aidan, and Garfield, Donald L., and Allen, Horace T. Raiment for the Lord's Service: a Thousand Years of Western Vestments. Chicago: Art Institute, 1975; and Keefe, John W., and Wise, Susan. Collected Works of 18th Century French Art in the Collections of The Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago: Art Institute, 1976; and Wise, Susan, and Masson, Andre´, and Seiberling, Grace, and Marandel, J. Patrice. Paintings by Monet. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1975; Paintings by Renoir. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1973; French Master Drawings from Claude to Corot. Providence, RI: Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, 1954.
[obituary:] "John Maxon, 60, Official of Chicago Art Institute." New York Times May 26, 1977, p. 34