For the last twenty-five years, Jonathan Myles-Lea has been recognised as the leading painter of portraits of country houses and gardens in the United Kingdom. He has created over eighty bird's-eye views in oils of historic buildings and estates for their owners. Due to his determination to keep alive a tradition that began in the fifteenth-century, Country Life Magazine awarded Myles-Lea the title; 'Living National Treasure', and The Bodleian Library at The University of Oxford has made arrangements to preserve his archive. Throughout much of the artist's early career, the British historian and former museum curator, Sir Roy Strong was Myles-Lea's main patron. Sir Roy continues to be his friend, advisor and confidente.
In May 2016, Myles-Lea also began to paint in a much looser, more gestural style. He continues to be inspired by the work of the 'Old Masters', with the late works of JMW Turner being the predominant influence, both in technique and subject matter. Whereas Myles-Lea's earlier style was typified by meticulous preparation and the laying down of many fine 'glazes' of relatively thin layers of oil-paint, his later style, (begun at the age of 47), involves the bold application of paint, often in thick impasto, which sometimes includes sand, finely ground seashells or quartz, which he uses in order to further bulk-up the medium. (See the new work here). From 2017 onwards he is also planning to paint 'en plein air' in Italy each Autumn as part of a 'Grand Tour' which he anticipates will last for the rest of his life.
Myles-Lea was was born on January 23rd, 1969 in the north west of England near the Lake District National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty that in past centuries attracted many poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. It was also the place that Myles-Lea's hero; the artist and art-critic John Ruskin made his home, living at Brantwood by Coniston Water from 1871 to 1900. Ruskin has been a major and consistent influence on Myles-Lea since his early childhood.
Myles-Lea is directly related to two English artists on his maternal grandmother's side: The English water-colourist and caricaturist, Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), and the English porcelain and watercolour painter Thomas Baxter (1782-1821). He was raised by parents who believed that art, music, nature and poetry were essential human needs, and the pursuit and creation of beauty was a noble aim.
Myles-Lea first attended Hutton Grammar School in Lancashire and then Malvern College in Worcestershire. While at school in Great Malvern Myles-Lea developed a love of English classical music which continues to this day. He frequently listens to the works of Sir Edward Elgar, Gerald Finzi and Ralph Vaughan Williams while he works. Although he travels and sometimes lives for several months of the year in other various countries, (especially Italy), he continues to think of the English countryside as his spiritual home. He is particularly drawn to Cumbria and Sussex.
After receiving his Bachelors Degree in The History of Art & Architecture at the University of London in 1989, Myles-Lea was befriended at the age of twenty by the Anglo/Irish painter Francis Bacon. Bacon took the young artist under his wing for over a year and repeatedly insisted that he should take up painting as a full-time career. He recognised that Myles-Lea was far more inspired by the natural world than by the urban environment, so he insisted that he should leave London in order to to further develop his skills and to devote his life to art. (Read more about Myles-Lea's friendship with Francis Bacon here).
In 1991 Myles-Lea assisted his friend, Cornelia Bayley to restore a fine Jacobean manor house called Plas Teg in a hilly, remote corner of North Wales. It was Cornelia's suggestion that Myles-Lea should paint a view of the house to hang in the Great Hall, and the picture effectively became his calling card.
The painting of Plas Teg was included in a major exhibition at Sotheby's hosted by HRH The Prince of Wales. in 1997 and this extraordinary early exposure helped to initiate a long career in which the artist was commissioned to paint bird's-eye views and portraits of country houses, estates and formal gardens throughout The United Kingdom, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
As stated above, Sir Roy Strong, the former director of The National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London has been a major influence on Myles-Lea's work after Sir Roy commissioned the artist to create a bird's-eye view of 'The Laskett', which is the largest formal garden to be planted in England since 1945. Myles-Lea later moved his studio to 'The Folly', a gothicised 18th century cottage in the Laskett Gardens, between 2011-2013.
A career highlight, and a departure from his landscape paintings came in 1997 when Myles-Lea was asked to paint a portrait of HM The Queen for The Drapers' Hall, one of London's twelve ancient livery companies. (See link to JM-L's Portraits)
In 2007 he was commissioned to create maps and paintings of Prince Charles's private home, Highgrove, in Gloucestershire, England. Myles-Lea's drawings of the garden appear on the cover of a limited-edition book written by The Prince himself: (link)
Myles-Lea's archive, which is in the process of being acquired by The Bodleian Library at The University of Oxford, consists of several thousand compositional drawings, sketches, letters and photographs. Inclusion in the Special Collections Department of The Bodleian archive is a rare honour for any living painter. He has been described by curators such as John Harris as "the modern master of the country house capriccio", and the successor to the artists such as Jan Siberechts (1668-1702), the landscape painter John Constable (1736 - 1837) and the artist and designer Rex Whistler (1905 – 1944).
Myles-Lea's earlier portraits of historic homes and gardens, were all executed to commission, whereas his later, more gestural paintings are mainly created on a speculative basis.
1996 - Sotheby's, London (Hosted by HRH The Prince of Wales)
2004 - The British Library, London (Hosted by Sir Roy Strong, former director of the National Portrait Gallery and the V&A Museum)
2005 - The Crawford Street Gallery, London
2006 - The Grosvenor Estates Gallery, London
2007 - The Duke's Gallery, St James's, London
2009 - The Holburne Museum, University of Bath
2011 - Hereford Cathedral, UK
Myles-Lea has executed over eighty commissions in ten countries. His clients include:
HRH The Prince of Wales
HRH Queen Paola of Belgium
Princess Salimah Aga-Khan
David Armstrong-Jones, Viscount Linley
Lord Anthony & Lady Caroline Bamford
The Cliveden Estate
Lord & Lady King of Wartnaby
Evelyn H. Lauder
Lady Victoria Leatham of Burghley House
Lady Arabella Lennox-Boyd
The National Trust of Great Britain
Jonathan & Jennifer Oppenheimer
Stowe Landscape Gardens
Sir Roy Strong