PHILIP ALEXIUS DE LASZLO
Budapest 1869 – 1937 London
Philip de László was one of the most stylish and successful portrait painters of the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. Like John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), he was an exponent of the fluidly-painted ‘swagger portrait’, but always managed to capture a sense of the sitter’s interior life, sometimes with a tinge of romantic melancholy. He portrayed the glamorous European high society that was rent asunder by the First World War and the leading figures of the era that succeeded it.
Born Fülöp Elek Laub in 1869 in Budapest, the son of a tailor, Philip de László began his studies at the Hungarian National Academy of Arts under Bertalan Székely and Károly Lotz. In 1890 he won a scholarship to study in Munich at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste with Sándor Liezen-Mayer. He also studied briefly at the Académie Julian in Paris. De László’s first works were highly detailed genre and history paintings, but he soon turned to portraiture and became one of the most fashionable artists of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He portrayed Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1899 (Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest) and in 1900 a hugely successful exhibition in Berlin led to commissions from the German Royal Family.
In 1900 de László married Lucy Guinness from the renowned Irish brewing family and in 1907 they moved to London, where de László received many commissions from the British aristocracy. In 1908 de László visited the United States to paint President Theodore Roosevelt (American Museum of Natural History, New York), a trip which brought commissions from several other wealthy Americans. He was appointed MVO by King Edward VII in 1909. Briefly interned on suspicion of spying for Austria during the First World War, de László continued throughout his life to paint portraits of some of the most famous and influential figures of the twentieth century, including the Duchess of York (the future Queen Mother), Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth II), Andrew Mellon, Benito Mussolini, Arthur Balfour and Jerome K Jerome.
Strongly influenced by the work of Velásquez, de László wrote in 1936: ‘the picture must show us the spirit by which the human form is vitalised…it must provide the sitter with the surroundings and atmosphere which are suitable to his personality and consistent with his state of life’.
The work of Philip de László is represented in the Royal Collection, London; the National Portrait Gallery, London; the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest; the American Museum of Natural History, New York and the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.