Helen Beatrice Myfanwy Hughes
Oil on board: 20(h) x 16(w) in /
50.8(h) x 40.6(w) cm
Signed and dated lower left: de László/1931. X; numbered 276 and inscribed in John de László’s hand Helen Hughes, aged 17, daughter of / Rt Hon. William Hughes, late Prime / Minister of Australia on the reverse
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PHILIP ALEXIUS DE LÁSZLÓ
Budapest 1869 – 1937 London
Helen Beatrice Myfanwy Hughes (1915-1937)
Signed and dated lower left: de László/1931. X; numbered 276 and
inscribed in John de László’s hand Helen Hughes, aged 17, daughter
of / Rt Hon. William Hughes, late Prime / Minister of Australia on
Oil on board: 20 × 16 in / 50.8 × 40.6 cm
Frame size: 27 ¼ × 23 ¼ in / 69.2 × 59.1 cm
In its original carved and gilded eighteenth century style frame
The artist, then by descent to his son John de László, by whom given to Raymond Skipp,
a family friend
Laib L18164 (238) / CL3 (7)
NPG 1933 Album, p.15b
The Home, 1st March 1933, illus., p.21
Studio Inventory, p.54 (276): Miss Helen Hughes. Promised to Mr. John by his Father and given to him by the Trustees after the catalogue was made
To be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of portraits by the artist currently being compiled by the Hon. Mrs de László and a team of editors, as no.5701
Helen Hughes became friends with the artist’s son John during her visit to England in 1931, and there is film footage in the de László Archive of her and her parents in the garden at 3 Fitzjohn’s Avenue with the artist and his wife Lucy. This portrait was painted at de László’s studio there in October 1931 and was kept by the artist for his youngest son, who inherited it on his father’s death in November 1937. Helen Beatrice Myfanwy Hughes was born 11th August 1915
in New South Wales, Australia, the only child of The Rt. Hon. William Hughes and his wife Mary Ethel Campbell. She had six half-siblings from her father’s earlier common-law wife, however there was no contact between them. William Hughes became Prime Minister of Australia the year she was born and they made their first voyage to London, via New York, when she was just six months old.
Helen was very popular in Australia and grew up in the public eye. The press regularly reported what events she was attending and what she wore. She partnered the Duke of Gloucester during
his official visit to Australia at the State Ball given at Parliament House, Canberra, 1934.
She returned to England in February 1937 to attend the coronation of George VI and was presented at the Court of St James’s in May. She was described in The Times as wearing ‘a picture gown of ivory satin. A train of ivory satin, with sunray pleating. A bouquet of gardenias’. The sitter tragically died in childbirth on 9th August in a London nursing home. Her son survived but as he was born out of wedlock Helen’s cause of death was not publicised and was reported as being from complications from surgery. William Hughes refused to acknowledge the child. Her body was returned to Sydney for burial and hundreds of mourners lined the streets around St Thomas’s Church, Sydney during the funeral. The service took place on 24th September and was presided over by Bishop Wilton and attended by representatives of the Governor-General, the Federal and State Government.
The verso of the frame has the remains of a Charpentier Gallery label where de László had a one-man exhibition in 1931. This portrait was not included so it is thought that he used the frame from one of the exhibited pictures of a similar size, these were: Christopher Columbus’s House and Courtyard in Cordoba (110934), Salon in the Royal Palace of Turin (5351) and The Tomato Seller at
Katherine Field, Senior Editor of the de László catalogue raisonné
Fig. 1 Billy Hughes with daughter Helen Hughes at Sydney Cricket Ground. WM Hughes, National
Library of Australia.
Fig. 2 Study portrait Mrs Theodore P Grosvenor, née Anita Strawbridge 1931. The Preservation Society of Newport County, USA.
PHILIP ALEXIUS DE LÁSZLÓ
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 banking 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.