Phil May Portrait Project: Laughs and Sorrows

1 Mar-16 Oct 2022


Join us in deciphering an enigmatic portrait of a black woman by Leeds-born artist Phil May (1864–1903). Largely overlooked for more than a century, it has been extensively researched and thoroughly discussed in collaboration with Leeds black communities. You can find out more about the project and hear the participants’ diverse, honest, insightful and emotional responses to the artwork at the gallery or via our online display.

Originally entitled ‘A Negress’, this enigmatic portrait by Leeds-born artist Phil May (1864–1903) poses more questions than answers to whoever dares to look at her eyes long enough:

Who was this woman?

Why is she dressed this way?

When and where was the drawing made?

What was the artist’s intention? Did he mean to be offensive?

Who gave it that title?

Why is it in Leeds Art Gallery now?

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