Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Stella and her husband, Montagu Marks, New York c.1920

Stella Lewis was born in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, the third of four children. Her father, James, worked as a Civil Servant.  

She always wanted to be an artist from the age of 11 and trained as an oil painter under British born artist and art gallery director, Bernard Hall and the legendary Australian artist, Fred McCubbin at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. There she met her husband-to-be, fellow artist Montagu ‘Monty’ Marks (1890-1972).  Monty had left school at 11 and worked as a scenic artist before commencing formal training.

With her pretty looks and Monty’s handsome, dashing manner, they made a striking couple. They travelled to England in 1911 to further their art studies and experience life in London and Paris, and were married in London. Stella painted her first miniature in 1912, having been goaded to do so by Monty and his best friend, fellow artist Penleigh Boyd. She soon earned commissions and began to make a name for herself, both in full-scale work and with miniatures. She signed her work Stella Lewis Marks or Stella. L. Marks.  

©Stella Marks' Estate 2017

This is Stella’s pencil sketch for her first miniature. Unfortunately the whereabouts of the actual miniature, or whether it still exists is unknown.

By the start of the First World War in 1914, the couple were living in America and Monty served as a Fighter Pilot in the Royal Flying Corp. 

In 1916 Stella became an Associate Member of the Royal Miniature Society, London, at the time the youngest member to join the Society and only the second Australian artist to do so.  By then she was painting miniatures of many of the most well known names in American Society and being exhibited at the American Society of Miniature Painters, the National Association of Portrait Painters and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The Duke of Connaught, Governor General of Canada, commissioned Stella to paint a miniature of his daughter, Princess Patricia.

©Stella Marks' Estate 2017

Here is a sketch she made in 1916 prior to painting the miniature of H.R.H. Princess Patricia. Reproductions of the miniature were sold for the Canadian Red Cross in WW1. By some accounts 30,000 copies were sold to raise money for Canadian soldiers by the year’s end. [source: 10th December 1916 Detroit Free Press]

Below are four examples of Stella's work in America.

©Stella Marks' Estate 2017

Mrs. Margaret Batten aged 84 painted in 1916.

©Stella Marks' Estate 2017

Knox Studebaker Ulrich painted in 1917
Exhibited at the Royal Academy 1931
He was a member of the famous American automobile family.

©Stella Marks' Estate 2017

Mrs Warbuton painted in 1921
She was later to marry William Kissam Vanderbilt II, whose mother, Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II, once remarked to Stella, 'Your miniatures are more like Cosway's than any other I have seen'.

©Stella Marks' Estate 2017

This miniature painted in 1924, is of Stella's own daughter, Patricia, aged three.
It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1936.

In 1934, the couple moved to England and Stella continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy until 1940. Monty was working as General Manager of London Film Productions and became well known in the glamorous world of films and celebrities and his painting was just for pleasure. The couple became celebrities themselves and Stella was the subject of many articles and interviews internationally. In many of these articles she was a strong advocate for  portrait miniatures to be treated as an art form on a par with larger works in oil.

“A good miniature must have all the drawing composition and knowledge that goes to make up a large portrait. It is in fact a portrait in watercolour.....The beauty is in the transparency of colour.” 
The Dominion, February 11th 1938

“Miniature painting seems to be coming back into its own again and I am very glad of that, for it is a beautiful art form…… It requires a knowledge of handling details and an ability to wield the brush in strong, sure, swift strokes. One most know exactly the shape of the impression it is going to leave and the precise tone and colouring to be obtained”
'The Return of the Miniature', The Christian Science Monitor, Boston, March 3rd 1917

In an interview with an Australian newspaper in 1937, she, perhaps controversially, compared the difference between the American and British market for miniatures at that time. She observed that Americans “realized the true value of a miniature. They will pay anything from 500 to 1,000 dollars for a work [today’s value US$8,500 to US$17,000], whereas the English will pay fabulous prices for oil portraits, but do not seem to realize that there is the same amount of craftsmanship and knowledge put into the painting of a miniature”.

Working in the traditional way, making her own initial sketches during sittings, she also spoke out about the way that some modern miniature painters were using imprints of photographs to work from.  Sometimes these ‘photominiatures’ were accepted for exhibition by unsuspecting ‘Hanging Committees’, not realizing that what were really tinted photographs masquerading as miniatures!  

It is still an issue today. 

©Arturi Phillips Collection 2017

This miniature of Sir Connop Guthrie was painted in 1938 and is a fine example of Stella's work. Sir Connop and Monty were friends and business partners. In 1934 Sir Connop persuaded the Prudential to bankroll London Films, where Monty was General Manager.

©Stella Marks' Estate 2017

 Preparatory sketch for the miniature.

Here are three more miniatures painted after Stella's move to Britain.

©Stella Marks' Estate 2017

Lady Swan, painted in 1939. It received an Honorable Mention at The Paris Salon in 1957.

©Stella Marks' Estate 2017

This miniature of Vera Bleck, sister-in-law of Douglas Fairbanks Snr., was exhibited at the Royal Miniature Society in 1977. It was probably painted in 1938 at a time when Monty was in partnership with Fairbanks, until Fairbanks’ untimely death in 1939.

©Stella Marks' Estate 2017

This 'miniature within a miniature' of Sir Winston Churchill was completed in 1966. The head is no bigger than the head of a drawing pin.

In 1948, on the recommendation of Sir James Mann, Director of the Wallace Collection, Stella was given a commission by the Duke of Edinburgh to paint a miniature of the then HRH Princess Elizabeth. Following this she painted miniatures of all the Royal Family, to much acclaim.

As a career artist with an exceptional reputation, Stella Lewis Marks was awarded an MVO   ( Member of the Royal Victorian Order) in 1978 for her personal service to the Monarch. Sadly, her career was already coming to a close because of her declining eyesight and by 1980 she was blind.

Further information on Stella and Monty can be seen on  www.montyandstellamarks.com and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stella_Marks

For further information about miniature artists working during the first half of the 20th Century, 'Dictionary of Miniature Painters 1870-1970' pub. 2012

If you have an example of Stella's work we should love to hear from you.

1 comment:

  1. Many thanks for posting this. I am happy that more people will get to see some of Stella Mark's beautiful work. (Of course, I am a little biased in my assessment since I am her grandson.)