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"Phil" Phil May (Image plate from Vanity Fair)
, 1895

by Sir Leslie Ward

chromolithograph (sheet: 38.0 cm x 26.3 cm)

Phil May (1864–1903), cartoonist, was born in Leeds and educated there before his family’s financial circumstances saw him leave school and start work at age thirteen. While employed to mix paint and paint scenery at the Leeds Grand Theatre, he started to make sketches, his first published drawings appearing in the Yorkshire Gossip in 1878. In 1884, having previously tried unsuccessfully to make a go of a cartoonist’s career in London, he was picked up by the St Stephen’s Review, this in turn leading to a job offer with the Bulletin. Arriving in Australia with his wife in 1885, May spent three prolific years with the Bulletin in Sydney and (briefly) Melbourne, producing over 800 drawings before leaving for Paris and further study when his contract expired in 1888. In London again from 1890, he contributed to the Graphic and Punch and many other illustrated publications. He published collections of his cartoons in 1895, 1896 and 1897; Phil May in Australia appeared in 1904, a year after his death in London from tuberculosis.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Mr Ronald Walker 2001
Accession number: 2003.206.9