Maud Winifred Kimbell was born on 22 December 1880 at Dunedin, New Zealand, the daughter of Eliza Palmer and her husband, Alfred Charles Kimbell, a fruiterer and property owner who served a term as a Dunedin city councillor and who was later an employee of the Department of Lands and Survey. The Kimbell family had moved to Wellington by the early 1890s. There Maud attended art classes at the Wellington Technical School. Her teachers included Mabel Hill, Mary Elizabeth Richardson (later well known as M. E. R. Tripe) and James Nairn. She was also influenced by Arthur Dewhurst Riley, the director of the school. By 1894 Kimbell had received the first in a succession of first- and second-class passes in the South Kensington art and design examinations, which were open to students of affiliated art schools throughout the British Empire. She began exhibiting with the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts in 1898 and completed her art class teacher's certificate by 1899.
Maud Kimbell's results in the South Kensington and in local examinations won her free studentships at the technical school. Encouraged by these successes she entered national competitions organised by the academy and by the Arts and Crafts Guild, established by Riley in 1900. One of her designs was chosen for the cover of the academy's 1900 exhibition catalogue. The design, of a British beefeater, was linear and colourful, and was printed in red and black with touches of white on dark grey card. Kimbell's illustrative and humorous approach gained her other cover and sketch commissions. Also in 1900 she was awarded a National Book Prize in the National Art Competitions run from South Kensington. Her prize was for twin still-life studies of New Zealand birds in watercolour. In 1901 she took over Florence Broome's design class at the Wellington Technical School and in 1902 won a bronze medal for a study, 'A smithy interior'. The medal was presented to Maud on 27 July 1903 by the premier, Richard Seddon.
After James Nairn died in 1904 Kimbell took over his still-life and sketching classes. She always acknowledged Nairn's teaching and recalled how he would urge students to 'dash it in, slash it in, don't be afraid of it! Let the world stare!' Maud continued as a permanent staff member at the renamed Wellington Technical College until 1911. Her preference for watercolour over oil in her own work was apparent by 1905, a choice and style likely to have been encouraged by Frances Hodgkins's successes in the medium at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and in local exhibitions the previous year.
Maud Kimbell's first solo exhibition opened at McGregor Wright and Company's Art Gallery, Wellington, on 16 April 1910. A small work, 'Repairs', was commended, but a reviewer also noted its 'very purple' shadows and asked, 'does the Queen's Wharf ever, even to the impressionist artist, look a purple mauve?' A portrait of a Maori woman dated 1910 would after Kimbell's death be described by Eric Ramsden, an art critic and scholar of Maori culture, as a 'brilliant portrait, one of the finest Maori studies'.
Late in 1911 Kimbell left New Zealand. After a brief stay in London she went to Paris where she visited artists' studios with Frances Hodgkins. She then studied at the Académie Colarossi but soon shifted to Percyval Tudor-Hart's studio. In the summer of 1912 she toured southern England in a sketching group organised by Hart which included fellow expatriates Owen Merton, Cora Wilding and C. Y. Fell. Kimbell did not return to formal classes on a regular basis. Riley had believed 'that there maybe too much teaching, particularly in the case of promising students'. Paraphrasing Riley years later, Kimbell said: 'The great thing in art is to have something to say, and to say it in your own way'.
Maud Kimbell's zest for life and work attracted painting companions, and led her to the artist's Mecca, Concarneau in Brittany, in the summer of 1913. 'Subjects simply tumbled over one another…I positively gloated over it all – Crowds of Breton women, all in their Breton costumes, & the men in lovely brown & blue clothes…were buying & selling, & strolling, & talking, & the sun shone'. Later in the year she worked in Holland, a country abounding in similar subjects.
At the end of 1913 Maud left Europe for Sydney, Australia. She was married there on 29 August 1917 to Alfred Charles Sherwood, a company director and widower. The marriage ended in January 1920 and the couple, who had had no children, were divorced in September 1922. As part of their divorce settlement Alfred Sherwood was obliged to pay Maud a regular allowance.
In 1924 Maud Sherwood was elected to the committee of the Australian Water-Colour Institute in Sydney. She was the only woman on the committee. In April 1925 she returned to Wellington and held a solo exhibition with the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. She went back to Australia but left in 1926, and travelled, worked and exhibited in Italy, France, Spain and Tunisia. Despite exhibitions with the leading art societies she was financially dependent on her allowance from Alfred. After he stopped paying in August 1927, because of 'continued business strain' and ill health, she was forced into asking him to resume payments. In 1932 she exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts.
Maud Sherwood returned to Australia in 1933. After her seven-year working tour overseas, exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne fetched plaudits from critics which placed her among the leading Australian watercolourists. In 1933 she was elected to the Society of Artists, Sydney. She received a Coronation Medal in 1937 and an Australian 150th Anniversary Exhibition Medal in 1938. In 1937 she was also a foundation member of the Australian Academy of Art. She exhibited at the National Centennial Exhibition of New Zealand Art in 1940.
The limitless decorative possibilities in Maud Sherwood's work – vivid colours dashed onto the paper in broad sweeps, the assured linear qualities either loosely or tightly structured – reflected her own 'vital and attractive' personality. She remained in Australia painting and exhibiting until her death on 1 December 1956 at Katoomba in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Maud Sherwood's contribution to the Australian art scene has been largely forgotten. However, texts and exhibitions on New Zealand art place her as a major artist who never forgot the subjects, techniques and assurance imparted by her early training.