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May, Phil

MAY, PHIL (1864-1903), English caricaturist, was born at Wortley, near Leeds, on the 22nd of April 1864, the son of an engineer. His father died when the child was nine years old, and at twelve he had begun to earn his living. Before he was fifteen he had acted as time-keeper at a foundry, had tried to become a jockey, and had been on the stage at Scarborough and Leeds. When he was about seventeen he went to London with a sovereign in his pocket. He suffered extreme want, sleeping out in the parks and streets, until he obtained employment as designer to a theatrical costumier. He also drew posters and cartoons, and for about two years worked for the St Stephen's Review, until he was advised to go to Australia for his health. During the three years he spent there he was attached to the Sydney Bulletin, for which many of his best drawings were made. On his return to Europe he went to Paris by way of Rome, where he worked hard for some time before he appeared in 1892 in London to resume his interrupted connexion with the St Stephen's Review. His studies of the London " guttersnipe " and the coster-girl rapidly made him famous. His overflowing sense of fun, his genuine sympathy with his subjects, and his kindly wit were on a par with his artistic ability. It was often said that the extraordinary economy of line which was a characteristic feature of his drawings had been forced upon him by the deficiencies of the printing machines of the Sydney Bulletin. It was in fact the result of a laborious process which involved a number of preliminary sketches, and of a carefully considered system of elimination. His later work included some excellent political portraits. He became a regular member of the staff of Punch in 1896, and in his later years his services were retained exclusively for Punch and the Graphic. He died on the 5th of August 1903.

There was an exhibition of his drawings at the Fine Arts Society in 1895, and another at the Leicester Galleries in 1903. A selection of his drawings contributed to the periodical press and from Phil May's Annual and Phil May's Sketch Books, with a portrait and biography of the artist, entitled The Phil May Folio, appeared in 1903.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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