Sadie Lee

Sadie Lee is an award-winning British figurative painter.

Sadie Lee is an award-winning British figurative painter.Her challenging paintings focus on a range of subjects, including the representation of women in art, sexuality, gender and the aging body. She has been selected to show work in many group shows including exhibitions at The I.C.A. and Museum of London. Solo shows include exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery (London), Manchester City Art Gallery, Schwules Museum (Berlin) and Museum of Modern Art (Slovenia).

In 2009 two of her paintings were selected for the group show sh[OUT!] at Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, alongside David Hockney, Robert Mapplethorpe, Grayson Perry and Nan Goldin.

In 1996 she won the BP Travel Award, a major prize in the BP Portrait Awards at the National Portrait Gallery. The award enabled her to travel to the American Mojave Desert to visit a tiny museum dedicated to the provocative art of Burlesque. She met and painted fifteen former strippers, now elderly and retired, in costumes of their choice. Most chose to pose in a revealing outfit from their striptease past. The exhibition A Dying Art: Ladies of Burlesque was shown at the National Portrait Gallery in 1997 for three months. It then travelled to Aberdeen City Gallery, the Ulster Museum of Belfast and Reg Vardy Gallery, Sunderland. In total, the paintings were on show for over a year. The exhibition attracted huge press interest including double-page articles in The Guardian and Scotland on Sunday, a televised interview on BBC 2 and feature on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

In 2007 Lee exhibited And then He was a She, a collection of paintings of legendary drag queen, Holly Woodlawn. Holly was the inspiration for one of the characters in Lou Reed’s infamous song Walk on the Wild Side. She is best known for her memorable role in Andy Warhol’s ground-breaking film Trash, directed by Paul Morrisey in 1970. And then He was a She opened in April 2007 at Salford Museum & Art Gallery and was shown at The Drill Hall in London in September 2007. The project was sponsored by Arts Council England, The Drill Hall, queerupnorth and Salford City Council. And then He was a She then travelled to the Novas Contemporary Art Centre in Liverpool as part of the Biennial and Capital City of Culture Festivals and in 2009 was shown in the Schwules Museum, Berlin.

Sadie Lee has lectured on her paintings at institutions including The National Portrait Gallery London, Manchester City Gallery, Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert Museum and Walker Gallery, Liverpool. Since 1998 she has worked as a freelance art educator at the National Portrait Gallery, London, regularly teaches life drawing at The Wallace Collection and painting courses at The Art Academy, London.

Since 2007, she has run Queer Perspectives, a quarterly event at the National Portrait Gallery, London, where she invites an LGBTQI guest to join her in selecting and discussing works in the collection. Past guests include Peter Tatchell, Ali Smith, Alan Hollinghurst, David McAlmont and Andrew Logan.

Her paintings are in private collections including those of television presenter and historian Dr David Starkey, Oscar-winning costume designer Sandie Powell, and Hugh Cornwell – lead singer of seminal Punk band The Stranglers.

“Serious, quietly witty and sincere, Sadie Lee’s assured work is an impressive tribute to the Grand Ladies of Burlesque.” The Guardiandouble -page article on solo exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery

 “Confronting a major female taboo – that of active looking and the expression of active desire.”

Elisa Oliver, curator of exhibition Fabulous Transgressions

 “A traditional understanding of painting and portraiture with a sharp, post-modern sensitivity.”

Emmanuel Cooper, author The Sexual Perspective

 “It’s the extraordinary way that Lee seduces you into a dialogue with the subjects, almost in spite of yourself, that makes these paintings resound and reverberate long after you’ve turned away.”

Cherry Smyth, author Damn Fine Art

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Solo exhibitions

Untitled –Town Hall Gallery, Ljubljana, Slovenia
And then He was a She - Paintings of Holly Woodlawn – Hornsey Town Hall;
Salford Museum & Art Gallery; The Drill Hall, London; Novas Contemporary Art Centre Liverpool
2016, 2009, 2008, 2007
Transformers – Ketchum Pleon, Shoreditch, London
Up West – The Cobden Club, London
Don’t Look – Modern Art Gallery, Slovenia
Inappropriate Women – East West Gallery, London
A Dying Art: Ladies of Burlesque – National Portrait Gallery, London;
Aberdeen City Gallery; Ulster Art Museum; Reg Vardy Gallery, Sunderland
Twisted Portraits – Green Street Gallery, London
Venus Envy – Manchester City Gallery

Group exhibitions

In Your Face – Salisbury Art Centre (Curator and exhibitor)
They – Gallerie a_Konzept, Mitte, Berlin
Never Going Underground: The Fight for LGBT+ Rights - The People’s History Museum, Manchester
Semblance – Dukes Actioneers, Dorchester, Dorset
Face Values – Collyer Bristow Gallery, London
Emerald Winter Pride – Islington Arts Factory, London
Obscene and Pornographic Art - (With Matthew Stradling) Article Gallery Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Pussy Envy – Hobusepea Gallerii, Talinn, Estonia
Made – Karamel Gallery, London
Urban Myths – Menier Gallery, London

Realism –The Gallery on Stanhope Street, Liverpool
Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibition – Mall Galleries, London
A Question of Sport – Clifford Chance, Canary Wharf, London
Pin Ups – (With Matthew Stradling) The Gallery on Stanhope Street, Liverpool
Gender_Gap - (With Martina Minette Dreier) Schwules Museum, Berlin
Sh[OUT] – Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, Scotland
Fellow Travellers – Salford Museum & Art Gallery; Novas Contemporary Art Centre, Liverpool
2008, 2007
Unladylike – East West Gallery, London
Hello Sailor – Liverpool Biennial – Seel Street Gallery, Liverpool
BP Portrait Awards – National Portrait Gallery, London
2002, 2000, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1992
The Discerning Eye – Mall Galleries, London
When The Lights Come Up – Gallery Nova, London
Mardi Gras 2000 – Gallery Westland Place, London
Pride and Prejudice – Museum of London
Fabulous Transgressions – Reg Vardy Gallery, Sunderland
Hunting Prize – Mall Galleries, London
1996, 1992
Art for Equality – The I.C.A., London
The Sexual Perspective – Jill George Gallery, London
Contemporary Portrait Painters – Henry Wyndham Jermyn Street Gallery, London


The Sexual Perspective Emmanuel Cooper 1992
Outlooks Reina Lewis and Peter Horne 1993
Art Today Edward Lucie Smith 1996
Damn Fine Art Cherry Smyth 1996
Female Masculinity Judith Halberstamm 1998
Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories Bonnie Zimmermann 2003
ARS Erotica Michelle Olley 2005
500 Portraits – BP Portrait Awards National Portrait Gallery 2011
Mein Lesbisches Auge II Konkursbuch 2012


BP Travel Award (Winner) 1996
BP Portrait Award (Commended) 1998


Absolut Vodka - Selected Artist Campaign 1994
Arts Council England - Project Funding 1996, 2006
Queer Up North - Research and Development Bursary 2006
Salford Museum and Art Gallery - Research and Development Bursary 2006
Homotopia – Research and Development Bursary / Commissioned Artist Bursary 2011
Wise Thoughts / Gfest - Commissioned Artist Bursary 2015

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