Phil May RI RP NEAC, Portrait of E.T. Reed Sketching - 1902 graphite drawing

An original 1902 graphite drawing, Phil May RI RP NEAC  Portrait of E.T. Reed Sketching.

A sensitive portrait of artist Edward Tennyson Reed sketching by Phil May (1864-1903), one of the most influential black-and-white artists of his generation.

This drawing is particularly interesting in showing the relationship between May and Reed, one leading caricature artist drawing another. It captures a moment at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, a time when British illustrators were newly in demand as magazines began to make use of photomechanical methods of reproduction.

Phil May produced a number of personalised portrait sketches of friends - and artists in particular - many now in the National Portrait Gallery; this drawing, addressed ‘To E.T. Reed’, communicates a respect for his fellow artist: in the sensitivity in the face and the quiet formality of the pose, without, in this case, recourse to caricature.

The drawing also has a poignancy, being produced just a year before May’s premature death, and it is underpinned by May’s compelling life story and rise to eminence as the ‘grandfather of British illustration’. This was a man born in Leeds, whose father died when he was just nine, and who ultimately was to die himself of alcoholism at St John’s Wood aged just thirty-nine.

After the extreme financial struggles of his youth, May found work as an assistant theatre scene painter and as an actor with a touring theatrical company. He received no formal artistic training but produced caricatures of his fellow actors, and on moving to London with a sovereign in his pocket, he initially slept out in the parks and streets. He gradually gained work with a number of illustrated publications, including Society, the Penny Illustrated, St Stephen’s Review and the Pictorial World. Through this he secured a contract with the Sydney Bulletin, and it was this prolific period spent in Australia 1885-8 that developed his professionalism as a graphic artist. On returning to London May renewed his connection with St Stephen’s Review and in 1890 began to illustrate its comic serial ‘Parson and Painter’. In 1891 Parson and Painter sold out in its first edition, making Phil May a household name. He launched his own annual and in 1895 joined the staff of Punch. He was elected to the membership of the New English Art Club (1894-7), the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (1897) and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.

May’s fellow graphic artist E.T. Reed was four years his senior but was to outlive May by thirty years. Phil May lived a bohemian existence at his fashionable Holland Park studio and has been described as genial and generous to friends and spongers alike. This portrait was likely executed at May’s studio, which was decorated in the style japonais; a Japanese kabuki mask hangs above Reed’s head - perhaps also a nod to Reed’s own style of caricature leaning towards the grotesque.

In graphite on thin drawing board.

Signed, inscribed and dated lower right.
There is mount burn to the periphery of the board. Slight abrasion to the paper surface in the image lower left, which is barely visible. Please see photos for detail.
20.5cm x 12.7cm.

Text copyright © 2019 Somerset & Wood Fine Art Ltd. All rights reserved.

Product code: JN-461

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