Life in Miniature

Inspired by our exquisite collection of miniature portraits by May B. Lee, November’s Hands on History session explores the world in miniature.

One of May B. Lee’s beautiful miniature portraits of a young girl called Barbara will be presented for visitors to view.

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I love the tenderness with which this portrait appears to have been painted and how carefully the artist has captured Barbara’s serenely thoughtful expression. The portrait offers a glimpse into a private moment of contemplation and as its viewer, I enjoy imagining what thoughts might be passing through the girl’s mind.

Born in Lahore, Northern India in 1884, May B. Lee grew up in luscious, colourful landscapes, summering in Simla, high up in the mountains of Northern India. The daughter of an acclaimed barrister and an accomplished artist, she had a contented and privileged early childhood.

The young May B. Lee’s life changed dramatically when, having lost her mother at age seven, she was sent to boarding school in England. By the age of fifteen, she was unable to continue her schooling as financial misfortune struck her family.

The artistic talent May B. Lee displayed at school, now became her means of supporting herself. She earned money copying Old Master paintings from The National Gallery and painting miniatures on ivory to embellish snuff boxes. Attending Lambeth School of Art in the evenings, she was encouraged to submit her work for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.

In 1905, The Royal Academy first accepted one of her miniatures, a self portrait. In 1907, the Salon des Artistes in Paris first exhibited one of her works. Throughout her life, she continued to exhibit at the Salon des Artistes and in 1950, she received the Salon’s high accolade, a Mention Honorable.

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As her artistic renown developed, May B. Lee was able to earn a living from the growing number of portrait commissions she received from wealthy people, to paint either themselves or their loved ones. She also continued to paint her family, friends and people she saw in everyday life, whose faces inspired her.

In 1935, May B. Lee married Sir Phillip Stott, an architect and engineer and the title of Lady Stott was bestowed upon her. Her husband died only two years after their marriage. Lady Stott continued to live in London and to paint commissioned portraits, often forming friendships with her sitters.

In 1972, five years before the end of her life, May B. Lee, chose to entrust her personal collection of 36 miniature portraits to Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery. A selection of these is permanently displayed in our Picture Gallery.

Please do join us in the Picture Gallery from 11am – 4pm on Saturday 19 November to explore Life in Miniature.

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