Philip Alexis de László (1869-1937)
Philip Alexius de László (Hungarian, 1869–1937)
Title: Paul de László, the artist’s son, 1932 Medium:oil on canvasSize:77.5 x 62.2 cm. (30.5 x 24.5 in.)
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 defence started by the writer Jerome K Jerome.
The De László works will be on displayat the National Portrait Gallery from Saturday until 5 September.