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Phil May

1 of 15 portraits of Phil May

Phil May, by Phil May, 1894 -NPG 3038 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Phil May

by Phil May
Pen, brush and ink and faint traces of pencil on paper, 1894
6 1/8 in. x 4 3/4 in. (157 mm x 122 mm) overall
NPG 3038

Inscriptionback to top

Signed in ink centre left: ‘PHIL MAY’.

This portraitback to top

Not a caricature and uniquely serious among his innumerable self-portrait sketches, this drawing was probably specially produced to illustrate the article Marion Harry Spielmann was writing on Phil May for the 1894 volume of the Magazine of Art. It was also used for Spielmann’s obituary of May in this magazine in 1904. [1]

May shows himself at the easel, penning one of his own grinning profiles, overlooked by a typical ‘’Arriet’ cockney sketch on the wall. The characteristic jutting lower jaw and pudding-bowl haircut, visible in photographs, have been minimized. His frame is suggested in a few pen strokes and the pose of the hands merely outlined. May’s method was to start with very detailed pencil studies which he pared down to essential lines for publication: ‘It was as though he put his extraordinary amount of observation into a sieve, and riddled away everything but was essential to his purpose. Concision of statement was characteristic of his mind.’ [2] There are some traces of the preliminary pencil drawing on NPG 3038.

For Phil May's letters to Spielmann, with offers of drawings and requests for financial help, see the Spielmann Collection, John Rylands University Library, University of Manchester. [3]

NPG 3038 is part of the Spielmann Collection of portrait drawings offered as a gift by Marion Harry Spielmann in 1939 (NPG 3023–47 and 3058). [4]

Footnotesback to top

1) Spielmann 1894; and MA, 1904, pp.31–5. It was later repr. in Thorpe 1932, p.95; chosen as the jacket illustration for Cuppleditch 1981; and as the defining image in Houfe 2004b.
2) Sullivan 1922, p.113.
3) Miscellaneous Letters, GB 133 Eng MS 1302. May's letters are humorous, affectionate and often desperate. Apart from two letters dated 1897 and 1900 the correspondence is undated.
4) The NPG had previously bought 11 portraits from Spielmann in 1936 (NPG 2810–20).

Physical descriptionback to top

Three-quarter-length, profile to left with cigar, seated at easel, drawing pen in right hand.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1987.

Provenanceback to top

Given by Marion Harry Spielmann, 1939.

Exhibitionsback to top

Drawings from the M.H. Spielmann Gift, NPG, London, 1939.

Reproductionsback to top

Spielmann 1894, p.348.

Magazine of Art, 1904, p.31.

Thorpe 1932, p.95.

Cuppleditch 1981, jacket.

Houfe 2004b.

View all known portraits for Philip William ('Phil') May

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