Portraits and Their Meanings

Portraits and Their Meanings

I have been wanting to create a collection of paintings for some time, that extend beyond aesthetics alone. By adding symbols to the picture, it could enhance the overall appearance, lead the composition and generally add more interest to the painting.

This was to be my first endeavour into adding narrative to a painting for sometime. For guidance I started to look at Tarot, not because I wanted to read someones fortune specifically, I liked that some of the symbolism was routed in a history that stemmed beyond the tarot; for example, chalices and vessels can depict fertility, and female reproduction across many different cultures and religions.

There are four so far in the collection. So here goes, here are the narratives, see what you think?

The Fool With The Fox

The character in this painting takes inspiration from the tarot card, The Fool. Not to be mistaken as foolish or lacking good sense or judgement.
This fool is typified by their adolescence. The Fool represents new beginnings, having faith in the future, being inexperienced, not knowing what to expect, having beginner’s luck. Behaviours we expect from our children as they strive for adulthood.
This fool has a guide, represented here as the fox. This fox, we associate with being cunning and sly, however, taken in a more positive vain, it represents creativity and problem solving.
The red feather carries the meaning of love and hope, happiness, general positivity.
He’s surrounded by trees which are considered representative of life, wisdom, power and prosperity.
The “Fool” is derived from the Latin “follis” meaning a “bag of wind”. The little pouch that hangs from his waste is a little play on this. The pouch represents his individual, airy nature.
All of these elements help to build the narrative in this painting. The beautiful enthusiasm of adolescence, the desire to become fiercely independent and the blind belief that they know everything and there’s nothing to learn from experience.

The Play of Light and Shadows

What does this painting remind you of? Maybe a little bit of Peter Pan, as he stands boldly, cheeky face, yielding his little dagger.

The strong shadow is very reminiscent of the story of Pan, desperate to be reunited with his own again.
While traditionally the darkness we associate with shadows could represent sadness and fear. Shadows only really exist when light is present. The light awakens the shadow and light represents happiness. However one cannot exist without the other, and it’s this dichotomy that children learn from a very early age. How can one experience happiness if one has never known sadness?

This painting shares it’s narrative with the other ones in this collection. It’s about the journey through childhood. The objects within it, are designed to highlight some of this child’s idiosyncrasies of this child. The red feather he carries, means love and
hope, happiness and general positivity. While the little dagger portrays courage and ambition. The little white dog is his companion and guide to help direct him on his journey.

With Grace (Jasmine)

In this painting, this subject holds a glass vase, this is purposeful, it’s like a cup or a chalice. There are many interpretations for this vessel historically in paintings, particularly around fertility, and female reproduction. However, in this painting it is used to convey the notion of growth and development.

Luscious plants and flowers surround her representing her connection to Mother Earth and the small rabbits that rest near her lap also emphasise a compassionate, nurturing soul.

Much of the imagery portrays this as a motherly figure, yet she’s clearly an adolescent. Therefore it becomes more about expectations and accountability – the role they play in the future. She takes on these responsibilities with grace and virtue.


Harmony (Eva)


This painting is loosely based on the tarot card Temperance. It’s depicted as a person pouring liquid from one receptacle into another. The person is a winged person/angel, usually female or androgynous, and stands with one foot on water and one foot on land.

The two vessels represent harmony between the spiritual and the material worlds. The composition is supposed to represent patience, moderation, understanding and compromise.




Portrait Paintings – A Solo Exhibition

This year sees the return of Holmfirth Artweek in full force, with the largest of open art exhibitions due to open at the Civic Hall in the town on Sunday 3rd July. Along with the Fringe, which is made up of 40 different exhibitions across the Holme Valley.

In 2021, I held a solo exhibition at the wonderful Holmleigh Manor. Nestled in the heart of the Holme Valley this Georgian Mansion boast stunning views of our glorious countryside and probably the best guest rooms in the area.

This year I return with a collection that explores my love of painting people and animals.

There are three reception rooms in this stylish manor, the perfect backdrop for my work. In fact the history of this manor which is over 200 years old, coupled with Andy and Steve’s exquisite taste, have both definitely influenced my work.

The Birdy Birds in the Lounge

I am a figurative painter and over the past 3 years, I have painted everything from fish to parrots and many, many rabbits. I have painted many animals in clothes, over 50 in fact. I have thoroughly immersed myself in these paintings. They have proven popular with the sale of many originals and limited edition giclee prints.

While painting these quirky animals, I’ve also been continuing to paint many portraits.

With these Birdy Bird paintings, I wanted to combine the portrait paintings with the bird studies I had produced in the past. The bird elements take the form of some elaborate headgear.

The colours have been chosen specifically to be fitting for contemporary environments. The changes of skin tone add further drama to the images.


Animals in Clothes in the Library

It would only be fitting to fill a room with some of the animals in clothes from 2022. You will meet a fine and dandy collection of animals in clothes, including Sir Archibald Badgerington, John Wand the Highland Bull, and the Bridgerton inspired Daphne Rabbit.


Portraits in the Parlour

I’ve always been inspired by the Pre Raphaelite movement. The group of artist believed in classical poses and an abundance of detail and intense colours.

I neither offer abundance in detail or the in-depth rhetoric with my paintings, but what I have tried to achieve with these portraits, is a development in my portraiture technique and it a bit more consideration to the narrative. My aim was to create a series of paintings with with elements to signpost the story.


Beyond ‘Just a Painting’ – Custom Art

Sometimes we crave something different for our home interiors, something a bit special on the walls, or furniture and soft furnishings which is just not run of the mill.

When there are untold paintings and wall art options to choose from not to mention the unfathomable number of websites selling furnishings, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start.

If you have a space in mind and you start your search online, you find yourself trawling through page after page of websites, and become blind to what you are seeing. Option paralysis sets in and you find it impossible to make a decision. You have no idea of size, and it becomes hard to visualise what it’ll look like in the room.

You might chance upon something in a gallery, an impulse purchase. You fall head over heels in love with it, then find yourself adapting the space to suit the art. That’s cool! it can work.

Customised Artwork

Imagine though, if you could work with an artist to help to create the ideal piece of original art for your home.

Buying bespoke means getting the exact size of painting you want. It also means finding the right framing solutions that will coordinate alongside the rest of the interior.

You can dictate that theme, it might be to evoke emotion, a portrait of a loved one for example, or simply a colour scheme that will match your interior. You can see the range of styles I offer by viewing the original art currently for sale, as well as the limited edition prints.

You can choose the medium, I specialise in oil on canvas and watercolour, but there are a myriad of other options including pencil or charcoal, screen print or pen and ink.

…..Or you can leave it entirely to me. The cost to commission a painting is more reasonable than you think with prices starting at £200.00 for an original oil.


Case Study

My Client was decorating their dining room and wanted some wall art to complement the interior styling. They had seen the koi carp paintings I had done previously and decided to commission one for themselves. This allowed for the dimensions of the painting to fit perfectly on the dedicated wall. The colours were matched with the deep blue walls.

We deliberated about the types of paintings my client wanted elsewhere in the room. I had experimented with some more Koi artwork, but we were concerned the whole room might seem a little themed. They had fallen in love with some of the animal in clothes paintings. So we opted for a rabbit and a fox. The frame solutions were very different from the Koi, this needed to complement the theme of this painting. We actually obtained the molding samples from the framer along with the mount to make sure they worked well with the wall colours.


The room was quite dark and so I introduced some cushions that were from my collection, to compliment both the koi and the rabbit.


Artwork on Soft Furnishings and Furniture

The artwork doesn’t need to stay on the walls, I am now able to produce cushions based upon my paintings and have also recently partnered with a specialist digital fabric printer and upholsterer to offer a bespoke furniture service, whereby the artwork is reproduced onto specialist velvets suitable for use on furniture.

So you can imagine pairing your painting with your furniture and cushions.


Case Study

My Client fell in love with the peacock and white tiger footstool. The design on this was based upon an original painting, which now hangs at Holmleigh Manor Guest House as part of a permanent collection. In order to achieve the design for the footstool I deconstructed the elements of the painting, along with another to create a mural like design that wraps around the barrel footstool. They loved the colours used which also matched with some other furniture in their open plan living room.

My client had an antique ornate pew, that had been left uncovered for many years, so we decided together that we would reupholster the pew, using a piece of custom designed fabric that would be based on the design of the footstool. The result was outstanding.



Dog Portraits for Christmas

I don’t know about you, but after a number of years, we run out of ideas for Christmas presents. We are always looking for something different, unusual. Something that’s going to wow your loved ones. A gift that shows you have really thought about them, and you really care.

Especially this year. 2020 has been a year of being away from extended families, yet being super close to the immediate family. We’ve definitely discovered what’s important.

Having a pet portrait is a great way of purchasing a unique piece of artwork, and also getting something that is that can have sentimental value.


A watercolour can be full of charm, the medium lends itself to subtle colours and tones, it’s doesn’t have to make such a bold statement as an oil painting.

Here are two examples of watercolour pet portraits.

Watercolour paintings start at £75, this cost is unframed.

Oil on Canvas

I have painted many dogs in the medium of oil on canvas. I always like to finish the paintings with the signature flat colourful background. The most recent triptych uses a proper punch of colour.

However, there are a collection of Beagles that I have painted which use more muted tones.


I will always try to coordinate the painting with the client’s interiors. So it can be anything from a bright vibrant colour to a pale creamy hue.

Oil paintings start at £175, this cost is for a canvas stretched onto a frame approximately 40 x 50 cm.




If you would like to discuss in more detail, please feel free to contact me info@maddiepaints.co.uk


Vouchers are available to purchase as well.






The Holmleigh Manor Collection

In the summer I was fortunate enough to be able to put a collection of paintings into Holmleigh Manor. A boutique guesthouse in the heart of the Holme Valley.

Holmleigh Manor is nestled in the heart of the village of Netherthong, beautifully position with stunning views towards the Holmfirth district.

The manor was built in 1820, so typical for the Georgian era. It boasts an impressive exterior, grand entrance, and high ceilings. Steve and Andy have done an incredible job of refurbishing the property, sympathetic to the period features, but with a cutting edge design.

If I ever envisaged my art in their perfect environment it would be here. In 2019 I created two larger than life paintings, I wanted to evoke a colonial revival look with the use of the tropical imagery. The peacocks and tigers are native to India and the use of palms is synonymous with the era. These two paintings look stunning in the grand entrance hall and stairway which has been painted in an opulent navy, with a contrasting turquoise stair runner.

My ‘birds in a bell jar paintings’ looks right at home in the drawing-room. Coincidentally the guys had already adorned the tables with small bell jars. And had already bought a couple of quality taxidermy pieces in glass presentation boxes.


The parrot in a crown was painted knowing I had a very elaborate gilt frame, which had been used as a mirror, but I replaced it with picture glass to use. I had been inspired by the dip paintings of Oliver Jeffers, and wanted to do something a bit different with this. I wanted to create something that had the traditional feel but with a contemporary twist.

Sir Philip Montesque – the Plucky Pheasant, looks right at some in the Manor too.

The Koi Carp take pride of place on the chimney breast in the Chinoiserie Room, there is a definite head nod to the Georgians’ love of the orient. Of course, we know the Koi is native to East Asia, and look right at home.


A number of these paintings are available to purchase;




KOI CARP  – £600


Limited edition prints are also available to purchase online. 

Painting with watercolours

After a couple of months of solid oil painting, I moved back to watercolours, to ‘Cleanse The Palate’, or should I say Palette?!?

Painting with oils is a very different technical practice to watercolour painting. It’s a longer process, which allows for reflection and consideration. It takes time for the paint to dry which can be both a virtue and a royal pain in the arse. On the one hand, you can use this to manipulate the paint, but it’s easy to overwork and can result in losing the vibrancy and depth of colour.

Watercolour, on the other hand, you still adopt a technique to layer up the paint, but it’s a much more delicate process, and less forgiving, for while you can rework areas – overworking can result in effecting the integrity of the paper, and ultimately loose those lovely fresh qualities the this medium has to offer.

Layering up the paint with washes

It’s much easier to adjust and change a lighter watercolour wash that it is bold dark brush strokes. So I start by analysing the subject to be painted, to consider where the light and shadows are. Once I have established where the highlights are, this is my starting point for applying the paint. I apply a lighter wash of colour allowing this to dry completely before then looking for the medium hues and then the shadows in the image.

Embracing the ‘water’ in watercolour

Watercolour, gouaches, acrylics and oils paints are all such different mediums and needed to be treated so when used. Watercolour is exactly that, so I will work with washes of colour rather than mixing bold thick paint from the outset. The translucency of the medium means that I consider unconventional colours such as blues, greens and yellows, to create tones. When layered up, they compliment the skin tones and help to bring form to the painting.

Techniques for removing the stain

The benefits of using washes to gradually build up the depth and form in the painting means that if you have made a mistake, it’s easier to remedy. My top tools when using watercolour are paints, brushes, water and and essentially, kitchen paper. The later helps to not only remove excess washes, it is also the ‘go-to’ to help to remove unwanted paint. I will wash the area with clean water, lightly rubbing with the brush, then dabbing the excess water away carefully.This will allow you to remove the paint stain and make corrections.

The Devil is in the detail

I will alway use a selection of brush sizes, and when focusing on the eyes, nose and mouth I will use a finer brush to get the detail. I will also use a thicker paint here as well. I will usually work on these details later on in the painting once I am happy that the layering of the watercolour washes have created a suitable form.





Holmfirth Artweek 2019

The Mustard and Punch Group open ALL of it’s doors to offer local artist a very warm welcome.

Every year, the biggest event in the Holme Valley artists’ calendar is most definitely the Holmfirth Artweek. One of the UK’s largest open art exhibition, it draws national attention. The well established event has been going for over 53 year and has, to date, raised nearly one million pounds for Macmillan Cancer Support from the proceeds of sales made at the main exhibition and the fringe venues.

Back in 2011, I showed my work at a fringe venue as part of Holmfirth Artweek. More recently in 2017, I exhibited two pieces, Mr Mandrill and Palms & Toucan at the main open exhibition. Both have now been sold.

Palms and Toucan and Mr Mandrill

I wanted to get involved again this year, and so set about finding an exhibition space as a fringe venue. I wanted to showcase more than just two pieces of work. Plus, give myself a clear focus for the year  – something to aim for.

Fortunately the owners of Mustard and Punch were one hundred percent on board with becoming a fringe venue for 2019.

When I first spoke to them, it hadn’t occurred to me that there was the opportunity to exhibit in all of the restaurants. The Mustard and Punch Group have a unique offering within the village of Honley. With a Tapas Bar and Grill, Italian and traditional fine dining bistro all within spitting distance from one another.

But, the more I thought about it, I realised that this posed a really interesting opportunity. While many of the fringe venues will be showing a multitude of artists, I had the opportunity to exhibit within a multitude of venues. I could create a body of work with depth and complexity that showed my ability to diversify. What’s more, the main motivation behind my paintings, which are all designed to compliment their environments.

Mustard and Punch Bistro

The paintings for this venue needed very charming, gentrified imagery to adorn the wall of this typically English fine dining restaurant. I had already painted Mr Rabbit and Lord Squirrelton, which had been well received. And so I created three more pieces, to be able to display a collection of five paintings in this restaurant.

Framed Limited Edition Giclee Prints of Mr Rabbit and Lord Squirrelton, £50 each or the pair for £90.

Bunny Kicks; original oil on canvas £250

Badger with badges; original oil on canvas  – £300, Otter Sure; Framed Limited Edition Giclee Print – £50


I wanted opulence but with a sense of fun, I had already been considering the symmetry pieces and they just seemed to lend themselves to this Italian, where the dining experience has been described as ‘a little piece of Italy within the Holme valley, with the laid-back feel and friendly feel’.

There are two symmetry pieces, and I also chosen to exhibit the fish paintings.

Paintings to be exhibited in UNO

Punch Bar and Tapas

Wayne and Rick asked me to produce something for the Tapas bar, that would ‘Pack a Punch’ when greeting the customers, I immediately knew what I wanted to do. Inspired by the logo, I decided it would only be fitting to paint a pair of ‘Corrida de Toros’ – Raging Bulls.

Corrida de Toros

The paintings will be on display from 1st – 13th July 2019.


A Preview Evening is on Monday 1st July, 7pm – 9pm, where you  can have access to all three restaurants to browse the paintings. As well the paintings, there will limited edition prints available to purchase.

20% of the proceeds made from sale of the paintings during Holmfirth Artweek will be donated to Macmillan Cancer Support.

Painting a Family of Beagles

It has been a real honour to paint no less than eight beagle portraits, six of which hang proud in the home of this beagle owner.

I started paintings these portraits back in 2011, when a friend-or-a-friend came up with the idea as a birthday gift. I was only happy to oblige.

Beagle Painting - OIl on CanvasThe beagle breed is a delightful dog to paint. They have very distinctive colouring, typically with the black saddle, white legs and chest, then tan colours on the head and around the saddle. They have a smooth dense coat, which has a beautiful lustre, which means there are lots of great colours around the folds and tucks, particularly on the head.

Beagles have bags of personality and while they are loving and gentle, that can also be really independent and have a stubborn streak. So, there is a lot of fun to be had when choosing the right picture to paint from, ensuring their own personality shines through.

I initially painted three of their hounds, but over the course of the next few years, new additions came to join the family and so I was commissioned to paint more.

Beagle Painting - OIl on CanvasBeagle Painting - OIl on Canvas

The last two portraits were completed in August 2018, and are of Enzo and Alvin, which are Cyprus beagles.

Every year 1000’s of dogs are abandoned in Cyprus. Current legislation means that dogs are not allowed to roam the streets and so they are placed within shelters or homes. Because of overcrowding there is only a finite amount of time allocated to each of the pups. There is only one of two outcomes, the fortunate ones are rescued and adopted, however many others are less fortunate.

Both Enzo and Alvin were fortunate to find a loving home in the UK. You can find out more about the plight of other dogs abandoned on https://www.facebook.com/CyprusBeagles/

Below are a couple of photographs sent to me that show the six paintings on the walls in their home.

Beagle Paintings on Wall



Madeleine Agnew