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Meet the Artist Who Paints Quirky Animal Portraits and What You Can Expect from Her at Living North LIVE in York

Madeleine Agnew
March 2023
Reading time 3 Minutes

You'll be able to find Madeleine Agnew at Living North LIVE at York Racecourse this March

You've got to have a creative mind to think up a bunny dressed as a sailor, a vixen dressed as Marquise de Isabelle de Merteuil and a badger inspired by Louis XIV - and to make them look good. Madeleine Agnew is the painter behind these peculiar portraits.

Tell us about yourself and how you got into art.
I’ve always painted. My mum was quite creative and encouraged me to draw and paint. It was a great hobby for me growing up; there was no technology to play on! I studied a degree in Fine Art, then did a masters degree. Life took over and I pretty much stopped painting (apart from a few pieces for friends) until around three and a half years ago. I said, ‘if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it now’, otherwise I’d regret it because I’ve always been so passionate about painting.

So in 2019 I decided to take art on full-time. Beforehand, I’d dabbled in doing commissions on an ad-hoc basis, but I wanted to create a body of work going forward that I knew would have a wider appeal. I wanted to create paintings that I could then reproduce as prints that would appeal to more people, so that’s when I started painting a lot of the work that you see today.

How would you describe your work?
I’m a very figurative painter. I’ve tried painting landscapes and I’m rubbish! I’ve always really enjoyed portraiture. I just wanted to use my experience and skill to paint all manner of figures, whether it be animals, birds or people.

How do you create your artwork?
There are a lot of artists out there that are technically brilliant, but I always want to put a twist on that. I want to be a bit more creative with what I produce, to take it away from being just a portrait. Particularly with the animals in clothes, which is something I think I’ve established for myself (I think I’ve sold around 70 of those now). I have an idea in my head like ‘wouldn’t it be funny if I dressed a rabbit up as Marie Antoinette’ or ‘wouldn’t it be funny if I made a deer look really dandy’. I think there’s a humour in it, or a quirkiness I guess.

‘I’m a people pleaser and I always want
people to be happy, and it brings me so much
joy to see others enjoying these pieces’

At the beginning of this year I had a lot of people ask me if I paint dogs in clothes. I'd always shied away from that because I didn’t want people to think these dogs belong to someone, but because so many people have asked, I decided to do a series. I’ve taken some of the top breeds and had a look at what kind of outfits would really suit these animals. At the moment I’m enjoying looking at 18th century portraiture and that stems back to when I was studying. I used to have a fascination with old portraiture and how people would dress up to show their wealth and how grand they are. I find a lot of humour in pairing animals with those outfits. I’ll use photo editing tools to create the vision and once I feel comfortable with how it’s looking, I’ll paint it onto canvas like I would with any other portrait.

What do you love most about what you do?
Two things really. I find a lot of joy in painting. When you’re doing a commission there’s a lot of pressure to make sure it’s right for your client, but when I paint for myself, it's literally me just immersing myself in it and really enjoying it. There’s no deeper meaning to my paintings, they’re just fun. The other part I really enjoy is having the opportunity to do events like Living North LIVE where I can see people engage with my portraits. They bring smiles to people’s faces. I’m a people pleaser and I always want people to be happy, and it brings me so much joy to see others enjoying these pieces. I try to price everything reasonably so anyone can enjoy a bit of fine art and original art.

Advice for budding artists?
In terms of technique and learning to paint, it’s practice, practice, practice. Also, there’s a lot of advice online that you can go to. I think I can see how much my paintings have changed over the last three and a half years just from doing painting all the time. If someone wants to monetise what they’re doing, I tend to look at what interior trends are going on as well – particularly colour schemes and maybe trying to adopt some of that into what I do. It makes the painting less personal to me, and maybe more appreciated by a larger audience. That’s the key. If someone wants to be able to sell their work, they need to get a feel for what will be accepted by a larger audience, and be able to create it at a certain price point which is attainable.


Your favourite hidden gem in Yorkshire?
Unity Yard in Holmfirth. It’s a quirky little café, but also features lots of work by local artisans.

An item you couldn’t live without.
My phone! I use it for taking photos of my paintings and listening to music and podcasts.

A podcast you recommend.
It’s not an art-based podcast but I’m really enjoying BBC Radio 6 Music – The Collection. It’s with Tom Ravenscroft.

Advice you’d give your younger self.
Be more confident and don’t doubt yourself.

What can we expect from you at Living North LIVE?
Lots of new originals for 2023, new prints, and a range of new cushions (including outdoor cushions).

Hopes and plans for the future?
To grow and sell more, but incrementally.


Otter Sure limited edition print, £15–£40

Fringed Peacock and Tiger cushion, £50–£55

John Wand, Highland Bull original oil on canvas, £350

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