The Society makes grants both to individuals and to organisations in support of cultural and scientific activities which increase innovation, outreach and diversity in Leeds and its immediate area. It also supports local museums and galleries and publications relating to the city.

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The Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, founded in 1819, is a charity that promotes interest in science, literature and the arts – in the city of Leeds and beyond. We have meetings, lectures, entertainments, publications and visits.

‘Here lies poor old Phil, while he lived his fill, and now he’s dead, he’s lying still’

The life and work of Phil May (1863-1903), a forgotten Leeds artist & humourist – with historian Janet Douglas

You may well have heard of artist Aubrey Beardsley, but Phil May was far more famous than Beardsley in Fin de Siècle circles. As well as artists like Whistler and Rothenstein admiring his work, his was a household name on a par with Dan Leno and W.G. Grace.

Phil May was born in Wortley, Leeds in 1864 and he died tragically young at the age of 39 in 1903. Gradually his visibility and reputation faded over the years despite his work being in the collections of the Royal Academy, National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The origins of this talk go back to when we were planning a series of lectures on ‘Forgotten Voices of Leeds’. The series has never materialised, but I had already bought some of May’s books of drawings and was determined that they shouldn’t go to waste – something I am sure May himself would have appreciated! More seriously, I would contend that May’s sketches are of enormous interest both aesthetically and for the light they throw on the issues and mores of the period. What is more, some of them remain very funny. Leeds Art Gallery held an exhibition of May’s work in 1936, and I am hoping my talk might spur them on to organise another soon.

PLEASE NOTE: no online option for this talk

Janet Douglas was a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, and writes on a variety of subjects relating to the history of Leeds. She sits on the Council of the Phil and Lit and is chair of its Events Committee.


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