British masters on show in miniature

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AN EXHIBITION featuring original works by some of Britain's greatest contemporary artists opened in London yesterday, but all the paintings were only one inch wide.

The pictures, by artists including Ralph Steadman, Bridget Riley, Anthony Gormley, David Hockney and Lord Snowden are among a collection of stamps issued by the Royal Mail to celebrate the millennium. Both the stamps and some of the original works of art together with the objects that inspired them have been brought together in the first special exhibition to be held at the new British Library.

A total of 48 new stamps have been released since January, covering 12 themes that have shaped the last 1,000 years. They range from the "Inventors' tales" at through tales of travellers, citizens, workers, entertainers, Christians and artists. The August series, which was released yesterday to mark the start of the exhibition, celebrated scientists and included an oil painting of DNA by Mark Curtis and pictures inspired by Charles Darwin, Michael Faraday and Isaac Newton.

The first stamp, the Penny Black, was produced in 1840 and decorated stamps appeared in the 1920s. Since then British stamps have been highly collectable and are regarded as among the best in the world.

A spokesman for the Royal Mail said: "Nearly all artists we approached were delighted. Some, like Damien Hirst, were too busy to take part but we are pleased with the outcome.

Inventors' tales, which was issued in January, marked the 99th stamp designed by David Gentleman, a veteran stamp designer, but most were creating their first piece of mini art.

David Hockney, whose work formed part of May's Workers' tales, painted his Yorkshire landscape for the first time. Christopher Corr, whose peacekeeping stamp will be released in October, talked to the British peacekeeping forces before starting work.

The sculptor Anthony Gormley submitted a cast of a baby, based his days- old daughter Paloma for his stamp in Patients' tales and Lord Snowden took a black and white photograph of a dalek for the entertainers series. The Christmas stamps, which will come out in November, include work inspired by the King James Bible and John Wesley rather than the traditional Santa Claus.

But there is just no getting away from Jeffrey Archer. In his quest to become Major of London, he even managed to get a copy of his book, The First Miracle, included in the display. of Christian Tales.