5 of 15 portraits of Phil May
- Extended catalogue entry
by Sir Robert Ponsonby Staples, Bt
Soft pastel on sandpaper on board, 1898
21 3/8 in. x 27 7/8 in. (544 mm x 709 mm) overall
Inscriptionback to top
Signed lower left, at edge of drawing board: ‘R Ponsonby Staples. Jan – 1898 –’.
This portraitback to top
Robert Ponsonby Staples, Northern Irish portrait, genre and landscape painter, worked in England from the mid-1870s to c.1904. In 1897 he was the art master at the People’s Palace, Mile End Road, a progressive educational institution in the East End of London.  Staples’s links with Phil May in the 1890s could have been through the Savage Club, to which both artists belonged. R.P. Staples is the author of four portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, of which this was the earliest to be acquired.
The figure of May is strongly drawn, with strategic touches of blue to lift the composition. The friendly, voluptuous young woman in the top left-hand corner is more faintly drawn.
The drawing was presented to the Gallery in 1912 by Mr Ernest E. Leggatt of 62 Cheapside.  In 1924 there was some correspondence between the Gallery and Staples over copyright issues, but no information was provided as to the circumstances of the portrait. In 1913, £1.1s.6d. was spent on altering a large and ornate frame to fit the drawing. 
Footnotesback to top
1) Snoddy 1996.
2) No original correspondence regarding the gift, previous owners, etc. in NPG RP 1659.
3) Payment to Francis Draper, 67 Park Street, London W, Duplicates of Account, vol.7, p.100 recorded in NPG RP 1659.
Physical descriptionback to top
Half-length, seated, profile to left, bent over drawing board, with ?stylus in right hand; top left, figure of a woman with hands clasped around knees.
Provenanceback to top
Given by Mr Ernest E. Leggatt, 1912.
Reproductionsback to top
Repr. NPG, CIC, 2004.
View all known portraits for Philip William ('Phil') May
Become a Member
Enjoy access to special events, discounts on the Gallery online shop, supporters’ updates and much more
Bringing people together by sharing the portraits and stories of the men and women who have shaped our nation.
Sign up to receive information on exhibitions, collections and activities of the National Portrait Gallery, including special offers, shop products, and exclusive competitions.