John Singer Sargent was reputed to have said: "Every time I paint a portrait, I lose a friend." The same could not be said of Philip de László, his successor as the leading society portraitist in Britain from 1907 until his death 30 years later.
De László, born in Hungary, was flattering and prolific, painting 5,000 portraits during his British career and capturing the likenesses of royalty and the landed gentry. He was the last of a long line of portraitists in the grand style, a tradition stretching back to Van Dyck.
Over the past 50 years, however, his work has been written off as glib and facile. When he died in 1937, the role of the British aristocracy was soon to change forever after the second world war. In a transformed UK, his works fell out of fashion. Now, however, the National Portrait Gallery, in London, is to mount the first exhibition of De László's work since his death.
One of the highlights will be a portrait of the Queen Mother, painted in 1925, when she was the Duchess of York, which the Hungarian Pesti Hírlap newspaper praised as "harmoniously expressing the winsomeness of the duchess's personality".
Another will be a portrait of US society beauty the Duchess of Portland. Her husband, who commissioned the painting, was thrilled with the results, writing: "It has a ray of heaven illuminating in her face the charming qualities of her soul."
Paul Moorhouse, the 20th century curator at the gallery, said De László was ripe for reappraisal. "He is a much more sophisticated and complex painter than he has been given credit for. He was incredibly good at what he did. He was prolific, and that very facility has caused a certain amount of suspicion. In his day, he was celebrated for being able to capture a likeness in two hours, which has been taken as a mark of superficiality."Moorhouse said De László's "brilliance can now be seen for what it is. He was an excellent colourist, a wonderful craftsman and hugely accomplished".
De László was born in 1869 and moved to England in 1907. He was interned during the last years of the first world war, despite a petition in his defense started by the writer Jerome K. Jerome.
Philip De Laszlo Portraits
Caroline Corbeau-Parsons Paperback: 32 pages; National Portrait Gallery Publications (Mar 27, 2010)
Philip de Laszlo(1869-1937) is among the most celebrated British portraitists of the first half of the twentieth century. He portrayed the leading figures of his generation, including actresses, dictators, scientists, writers, politicians, princes and society figures. This fascinating introduction to his work takes us from his humble beginnings in Budapest and his student years in fin de siecle Paris and Munich, to his success as a society painter with commissions to paint kings, queens, presidents and two popes. In 1907 de Laszlo settled in England, where he began to move away from his sober early style towards bravura portraiture in the grand manner. On the retirement of John Singer Sargent he became Britain's most favoured portraitist, and his sittings book not only remained full for the next two decades, but in 1930 he succeeded Walter Sickert as President of the Royal Society of British Artists. This publication concentrates on de Laszlo's British career - astonishingly prolific years of great artistic achievement.
A Brush With Grandeur: Philip Alexius de Laszlo (1869-1937)
by Sandra De Laszlo Hardcover: 208 pages; Paul Holberton Publishing (Jul 2004) Best Seller
Philip de László (1869-1937), following a meteoric rise to recognition in his native Hungary, settled in Britain in 1907 and became the leading portrait painter in the country, taking over from Sargent. He is known especially as a portraitist of beautiful women, but his male portraits (including those of four U.S. Presidents) are very forceful and his talent was universal, including landscape, animal subjects and children, and drawings and sketches as well as oil paintings.
This book, accompanying the first retrospective exhibition of de László since his death, illustrates a rich and representative selection of his work, drawn from a range of private collections, and re-introduces this well-known but little studied artist to a wider public. Its distinguished contributors include Christopher Lloyd, Surveyor of the Queens Pictures; Gábor Bellák, curator of nineteenth-century paintings and drawings at the Hungarian National Gallery; Richard Ormond, formerly director of the National Maritime Museum; and Christopher Wood, well known for his books on nineteenth-century art. The catalogue entries, by Sandra de László, contain fascinating biographical as well as art historical information.
Philip de Laszlo: His Life and Art
by Duff Hart-Davis Hardcover: 412 pages; Yale University Press (Sep 21, 2010)
Philip de László (18691937) was born into a humble Hungarian family in Budapest and rose to become the preeminent portrait artist working in Britain between 1907 and 1937. He painted nearly 3,000 portraits, including those of numerous kings and queens, four American presidents, and countless members of the European nobility. Has any one painter ever before painted so many interesting and historical personages? asked his contemporaries. There has been no biography of him since 1939, and this new account of both his life and his work draws on previously untapped material from the family archive of over 15,000 documents, to which the author has had unrivaled access. It establishes the intrinsic importance of his art and re-positions him in his rightful place alongside his great contemporaries John Singer Sargent, Sir John Lavery, and Giovanni Boldini.