'It came to me in a dream': meet the artist behind THAT Theresa May painting

Never to be unseen

Maxime Xavier is the painter behind the picture of the prime minister on a lion which went viral

Reverend Richard Coles did not know what he was unleashing when he treated his Twitter followers to a quite incredible painting of Theresa May riding a lion, apparently discovered in a charity shop in Poole.

The Saturday Live presenter tweeted the striking image to his 172,000 followers, saying: "This, spotted by someone in a charity shop in Poole apparently, must surely be saved for the nation."

It displayed the prime minister on top of the lion apparently leaping through the stars of the EU flag high above Earth, for reasons that were not immediately obvious.

It wasn't in a charity shop in Poole, though, but a gallery in the Dorset town where it had been in a back room oblivious to the public for almost two years. And after his tweet went viral and The New European asked for any information, we tracked down the artist to Lyme Regis – and found the iconic image is now on proud display and on sale for an eye-watering £8,000.

Maxime Xavier is the woman who painted what turns out to be titled Is This A Dagger Which I See Before Me. And the artist, whose stock-in-trade is more portraits of Strictly Come Dancing contestants, told the New European the image of the PM sat astride a lion came to her – like Yesterday to Paul McCartney – in a dream.

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'I tend to dream things,' she says.

'All my paintings are not just paintings, they're stories. So I have stories within my paintings and normally, and with that, I dream them.

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'When I wake up I have an image so with the Brexit one I was very interested in it and following it, and I just saw her, you know, jumping from Europe because in the bottom of the painting you've got the globe and you've got Europe on the right-hand side, and she's jumping through the Brexit hoop towards England and there's sort of dark clouds behind her.

'So, you know, it's one of those paintings that puts those images in your head that you sort of think, gosh, this is such a huge thing and she's on the lion and I think England's a very strong country and I think we'll get there.

'We will get there. Whatever happens, we will get there because England's always managed to bounce back, because we've got lots of people here who are really keen to work and make things better.' Maxime Xavier and her portrait of Alan Turing

Maxime, who is 'young enough to still be getting into trouble and old enough to know I probably shouldn't' humbly describes the 5ft x 4ft oil on canvas as a 'fabulous painting'.

The key part, which gives the painting its name, is the pen in May's hand. The exact nature of the object had caused online speculation, with some assuming it was a phone and others more cruelly that it was a pregnancy test. But it turns out it was the pen used to sign the Article 50 trigger.

'It's really an ambiguous painting, you know, just sitting on the lion holding the pen that signed the Brexit agreement, the Article 50, and she's sort of looking at that pen as if it's like 'is this a dagger I see before me?',' says Maxime.

'She didn't know then, as none of us do or did, what this was going to mean.

'So the painting, you could look at it as for her or against her, or against Brexit or for Brexit, so it's one of those paintings that's like a real talking piece, really.'

Maxime herself unsurprisingly voted to Leave.

'All the politicians who run England… to me England seems to be really going downhill,' she explains.

'I listen to lots of things about it and it's so confusing that you didn't get a proper, you know, 'this is what's going to really happen and this is what it means'.

'I'm not really a terribly political person, but I just wanted it to change for the better.

'And I felt sometimes when things get in such a rut what you've really got to do is unplug the drain. And it just needs a good shake-up to get it all going again and off we'll go again on a maybe different tangent sort of thing.'

Maxime, who has painted her entire life, is self-taught, having taken herself off to the National Gallery when young to copy its masterpieces. She now herself has a portrait of Alan Turing in the National Portrait Gallery's archives, while running a small gallery in Lyme Regis. And she's painted Sir Oliver Letwin.

Meanwhile, if you have a spare eight grand you wish to invest, you can bid on her Brexit masterpiece on eBay here. It's a lot of money but it's a slice of history. And, as Maxime says: 'I've got rather a large dog here and she needs feeding'.

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