Laszlo: A Brush with Grandeur'  -- 4 articles regarding exhibition
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Eszter Balázs, 
By Royal Appointment,” The Budapest Sun Online, Volume XII, Issue 7 (February 12, 2004)

A SWEET blonde child, with an acquiescing half-smile and eyes asking, “Why do I have to endure this?” wearing a silk dress and holding a posy basket. 

She could be one of Velázquez’s meninas, but in fact she is of much higher rank. The child is Princess Elizabeth, later the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II, aged seven, and portrayed by the leading portrait painters of the time: Hungarian born Philip de László. 

Although de László’s sitters included Kaiser Wilhelm II and the UK’s late Queen Mother, the artist is now virtually forgotten, together with his 2,700 portraits. 

A recent exhibition at Christie’s in London, opened by Princess Anne, the daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, paid tribute to the forgotten artist. 

One of the last crusaders of his time, Philip de László painted high society from the Edwardian imperial times until the troubled years of the 1930s. His client list included the movers and shakers of the turn of the 20th century. In addition to the royal houses and aristocrats, he also painted important figures in politics, industry and religion. 

De László painted members of the royal houses of the UK, Spain and the Balkan states, as well as four American presidents: Theodore Roosevelt, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. 

Kaiser Wilhelm II and Benito Mussolini were also among his clients. 

An impressive list of sitters indeed, the significance of which was summed up by one of his sitters, Lord Selborne, in a rhetorical question: “Has any one painter ever before painted so many interesting and historical personages?” 

It is all the more surprising, therefore, that the recent exhibition in London - opened as part of the year-long celebration of Hungarian culture to mark Hungary’s joining the European Union - was the very first such display of de László’s works. 

His reputation sank after the Second World War: undoubtedly one of the reasons for this neglect was the emerging new society’s prejudice against social painting. Another reason is that most of de László’s work is in the hands of private collectors including Queen Elizabeth II, or in Hungarian museums and with the de László family. 

Dying in 1938 [sic] as Philip Alexius de László, with a noble “de” prefix to his family name, he was born as Fülöp Elek László in 1869 Budapest. The son of a tailor, he was ennobled by Emperor Franz Josef in 1912 and died a British subject. 

The young painter studied his trade with some of the best Hungarian artists of the time: Bertalan Székely and Károly Lotz. On a state scholarship he studied both at the Royal Bavarian Academy in Munich and the Académie Julian in Paris. 

His first royal commission came from Prince Ferdinand and Princess Marie-Louise of Bulgaria in their castle in Sofia in 1894. The picture was a success, generating further orders for the painter in other Balkan courts. 

A charmer in his green velvet jacket, he won the affections of Lucy Guinness of the Irish brewing family, who he met in Munich. With excellent networking skills and smooth manners, the young man soon became a household name in European courts. 

He owed his renown as much to his skill at putting his sitters in the best light, as to his outrageous flattery. 

He was an artistic talent following the grand manner of painting such as Van Dyck or Titian. 

His popularity might have owed something to the nostalgia of a public which preferred an older style to the already blooming Cubism and photography of the early 20th century. One of his later subjects, the late Queen Mother as the young Duchess of York in 1923, has never looked so sweetly ethereal as when painted by de László wearing a piece of blue material from his studio (pictured). 

In turn, Queen Elizabeth’s portrait at the age of seven was believed to be one of the Queen Mother’s favorites. 

After gaining his reputation as the painter of aristocracy and royalty on the Continent, de László moved to England in 1907, the year when the favorite portrait painter of London, John Singer Sargent turned to landscape painting. 

Although critics still argue whether de László was Sargent’s natural successor, the Hungarian was soon the man to hold a mirror to with regards the painting of high society in the pre-First World War era. 

De László loved to paint beautiful women like Doreen Buchanan, the wealthy wife of an army officer. 

When she sneaked a look at de László’s work while the painter was out of the room, she was shocked to see that a nipple was clearly visible. She hastily rubbed her thumb on the wet paint to preserve her dignity: de László never noticed, and the painting is regarded as one of his finest. 

De László’s portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm II is a rare example of the ruler shown as an ashen, browbeaten, but not unsympathetic man, in stark contrast to the bellicose images we usually have of him. 

The portrait had a sad fate: in the spring of 1945, a Soviet soldier slashed it four times across the torso and the face. The mutilated picture was kept in storage in Potsdam for the next 58 years before being exhibited at Christie’s. 

Through his influential acquaintances de László obtained British citizenship shortly before the First World War started, but as the former subject of an enemy state he came under suspicion. 

He had not only painted the Austrian foreign secretary, Count Berchtold, regarded by many as being responsible for the war, but he had also been ennobled by Emperor Franz Josef. 

He often sent letters to his mother in Hungary and made the mistake of helping a Hungarian emigrate to England. In 1917, he was arrested by police officers from Scotland Yard and locked up in Brixton prison and then Holloway internment camp. 

Released after a nervous breakdown, it took him two years to recover his reputation. He again painted kings, queens and maharajas, industrialists, bankers and archbishops. 

British Prime Minister Lloyd George sat for him twice, but Mussolini, who was described in 1923 as “a restless sitter” and the then Princess Elizabeth, characterized as “intelligent and full of character” in 1933 were also immortalized by the court painter. 

With most of his paintings decorating ancestral hallways, a rare opportunity to see his pictures encompassing several works painted in Hungary as well as portraits borrowed from English, French and German museums will be the exhibition in the Ernst Museum (Pest, District VI, Nagymezô utca 8), between March 19 and April 25.

(Editor's Note: The article was accompanied by the following illustrations:)

The article was accompanied by a reproduction of de László’s 1925 portrait of the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.


Special thanks to Matt Davies, of Kansas City, a friend of the JSS Gallery, for sending these articles.

Gerald Isaaman, 
A Forgotten Artist Who Had a Brush with Grandeur,” 
Camden New Journal, (Thursday, 15 January 2004)

HE has been lost in the mists of a past age, forgotten from those dashing days when presidents, prime ministers, beautiful women and people of distinction queued to be captured on canvas with the brilliance of his artistic brush.

Philip Alexius de László, as his romantic Hungarian name implies, became the darling of aristocratic society, the painter to whom even royalty paid a fortune so they could sit for an admired portrait at his studio in Hampstead.

But he died dramatically in 1937, aged 68. His name and reputation, the elite, carefree life of the rich and famous that still existed amid the miseries of the 1930s, virtually disappeared when world war followed.

But then last week, at the Mayfair headquarters of Christie’s, the auctioneers, their galleries were filled with 90 enticing works from de László’s great reign, in the first retrospective exhibition of his work since his death, an event opened by the Princess Royal.

It is a show of delight, poignantly entitled A Brush With Grandeur, and one that includes memorabilia from his days at no 3 Fitzjohn’s Avenue, Hampstead, from 1921 until his death. 
It includes his palette and paintbox, royal signatures in his “sitters’ books” and a photograph of Princess Marina leaving his studio, now tucked behind the neighbouring church of St Thomas More in Maresfield Gardens.

And on display is a black and white silent film of de László painting the portrait of a fashion model, a film shot on a 16mm motion picture camera, one of the first of its kind, which was given to him by George Eastman, whose portrait he painted in 1916.

The exhibition is part of an array of cultural events celebrating the Hungarian government’s forthcoming entry into the European Union.

“It all came as a great surprise,” elegant Sandra de László, one of the curators, who is married to the artist’s grandson, Damon, said. She has been working for 15 years preparing a definitive catalogue of more than 3,000 de László paintings.

“The idea popped up as a kind of miracle and I didn’t think we had the time to put it together. But you make time to do something you want to do,” she said.

“And it is breathtaking to see all these pictures come together from around the world. It does bring him back into magnificent view. 

“With World War II and the austerity that followed there wasn’t room any more for an artist like de László. He just went out of fashion and was forgotten. We hope his reputation will now be restored.”

Even before World War I de László could command an extraordinary £1,000 for a full-length portrait. “That’s equivalent to £100,000 today,” said Sandra. “Later on, he occasionally asked £3,000 when he didn’t want to paint a particular person’s portrait. And once or twice he got it.”
That was a remarkable transformation for the humble tailor’s son from Budapest who fell for Lucy Guinness, a member of the banking family, while studying in Munich.

He borrowed money to follow her to Paris but their desire to marry was thwarted, Lucy’s father finding a struggling artist highly unsuitable. But their love remained steadfast – and they married seven years later, living first in Budapest but returning to England for the education of their children.

Here in London, he put in an exhibition to display his talents. Edward VII and Queen Alexandra went to see it. That same day he received a command to visit Buckingham Palace, to paint Princess Victoria. It was the start of a sparkling career.

The exhibition alone shows us the late Queen Mother, draped in blue as the Duchess of York, the Queen as Princess of York, aged just seven, de László describing her as “intelligent and full of character,” despite being “very sleepy and restless.”

Less formal is his portrait of luminous Doreen Buchanan, who was so shocked she erased her nipple from the portrait, Vita Sackville-West, insecure at 18, and his seductive portrait of the German singer and actress Anny Ahlers.

It went unfinished because she fell to her death from the balcony of her flat during a bout of depression in 1933. Photographs of Anny posing for it in his Hampstead studio are still pinned to the back of the portrait.

There was tragedy too in de László’s own life. In 1917, he foolishly gave £1 to a begging Hungarian refugee and ended up being denounced at a time when paranoia against foreigners was at its height. He was interned.

His fate was demoralising but de László was a man of determination and he fought off his own depression to regain his status as Britain’s leading portrait painter.

The move to Hampstead followed. “I believe he was only the second resident of newly-built houses there,” said Sandra. “He had 16 happy years there.”

Hurry if you want to see the exhibition, at Christie’s, 8 King Street, SW1. It closes on January 22.

(Editor's Note: The article was accompanied by the following illustrations:)

The article was accompanied by illustrations of de László’s portraits of The Duchess of York (1925), Miss Anny Ahlers (1933) and Mrs. Doreen Buchanan (1929).


Special thanks to Matt Davies, of Kansas City, a friend of the JSS Gallery, for sending these articles.

Suzy Menkes, 
A Hungarian Artist’s Brush with grandeur,” International Herald Tribune, 
(January 9, 2004)

London - Two dramatic bayonet slashes scar the noble, mustachioed face of Kaiser Wilhelm II, as he stands in his guard’s uniform with favorite horse and dog – as in the best ancestral portraits. 

The savaging of the canvas by Russian troops in Germany at the end of World War II brought to a symbolic end the era of the Hungarian painter Philip de László, who had died in 1937 after taking his brush to the crowned and coroneted heads of “old” Europe. 

Today, he is high society’s forgotten hero - the charmer in a green velvet jacket who swept Lucy Guinness, of the Irish brewing family, off her feet and went on to marry her and to paint regally the high and mighty on the cusp of two wars. His brilliant career, as he rose from humble origins as the son of a Budapest tailor to be the last in a 500-year tradition of court painters, is being recognized at Christie’s in London - as part of Magyar Magic, a yearlong festival to celebrate Hungary’s integration into the 21st century’s “new” Europe. 

Last week’s opening by Princess Anne, the daughter of Queen Elizabeth II (who is pictured by de László in childhood with blonde curls and a basket of meadow-sweet flowers), was a fine opportunity for the descendants of Greek royal families and the sprawling de László clan to compare Roman noses and fine features with their ancestors. 

Yet it is hard to believe that these ineffably graceful grandes dames, a smile hovering on the lips and a vaporous trail of drapes that might have belonged to a Renaissance wardrobe, are merely three generations old, or that they were created by de László while 20th-century art was refracting into cubism and photographic experiments were reworking painterly light and shade with gelatin. 

But that is the charm of “A Brush With Grandeur: Philip A. de László, 1869-1937” (until Jan. 22). It holds up a mirror to the Indian summer of the aristocrats of Europe in the Edwardian era, through the storms that swept so many away and through to the 1930’s, with not a quiver of uncertainty as to their future. 

“He was the last of the court painters - stepping into Sargent’s shoes,” said Christopher Wood, a London art dealer and the show’s co-curator. He was referring to the fact that John Singer Sargent laid down his portrait pencil in 1907, the very year that the 38-year-old de László arrived in England, with a reputation garnered on the Continent. 

Even his internment as an alien in World War I did not break the spirit of the painter, who continued in the great tradition of putting his sitters literally and figuratively in the best light. The same roseate glow emanates from the face of the Marchioness of Londonderry, painted in 1913 in a Gainsborough-style gown, holding the leash of her elegant hound, and in 1920 in the uniform of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. 

The late Queen Mother, as the young Duchess of York in 1923, has never looked so sweetly ethereal as with pearls looped over porcelain throat and bare shoulders rising from a drape of cloth. This outfit was not so revealing as the diaphanous gown worn by Doreen Buchanan, the wife of an army officer, who secretly smeared her thumb on the fresh paint to erase her nipple. 

De László’s influence extended even to the United States, where he painted four presidents: Franklin Roosevelt, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. 

Sandra de László, married to one of the painter’s 17 grandchildren (16 of whom attended the opening party), emphasized both the formality of the approach and the skill with male subjects, from a 1900 portrait of Cardinal Mariano Rampolla (which the catalogue compares to Velázquez) to the brooding elegance of the Maharajah of Jaipur in 1935. 

After working for 15 years on the catalogue raisonné of the work, Sandra de László said she felt a “great responsibility” in representing the artist before her family - and a need to prove that early sketches and paintings done in Hungary suggested a broader range than just the big portraits. 

“He was the apogee of the era because the Second World War changed so much,” she said. “The swagger portrait reached its climax - and it was inevitable afterwards that informality would take over.” 

In fact, the room of family pictures shows de László at his most natural, capturing the wide eyes of his fifth son, John, following fish in a goldfish bowl - painted while the artist was invalided out of wartime prison after a nervous breakdown. “How interesting it is to watch the movement of the fish in the water. … Life is full of interest if only we gave more time to the observation of it,” de László wrote. 

He himself spent 30 years in the goldfish bowl of upper-crust society. Whether or not art critics see the body of work as more than a fascinating period piece, there is no arguing about the painter’s place in history. 

He followed a tradition of catching and enhancing a likeness with due grandeur and majesty, the last of an illustrious line that includes Titian, Van Dyck, Velázquez and Franz Xavier Winterhalter. Since his era saw the birth of photography and its takeover of the perfect likeness from painting, de László has yet another claim to a historic position. 

According to Katalin Bogyay, director of London’s Hungarian Cultural Center, the story of Fülöp László (as he was known in his native country) is also a parable of modern times: an example of a Hungarian who became a fully integrated European and who represents the best kind of human cultural interface. She rates the Christie’s exhibition on a level with five other shows, which are part of the current Magyar Magic event in Britain. 

So why is de László’s name not on every art lover’s lips? Wood says that there is a strong resonance in England - but that the best-loved portraits tend to hang in ancestral corridors, rarely coming up for sale - and that the painter has been neglected in Hungary after falling out of favor in the Communist era. A small exhibition will now be staged in Budapest welcoming back to Hungary’s brave new European world an artist who won the hearts and caught the faces of more royal sitters than any other painter in history.


Special thanks to Matt Davies, of Kansas City, a friend of the JSS Gallery, for sending these articles.

James Johnston, “Recognition at Last for Painter of Rich and Famous,” 
The Scotsman, 
(Monday, 22 December 2003)

BORN in Budapest in 1869, the son of a tailor, he became the most successful court painter in Europe, painting members of almost every royal family of his day and four presidents of the United States, yet the name Philip Alexius de László is probably unknown to all but a select few. 

That is about to change, however, as Christie’s, the fine art auctioneers, in collaboration with the Hungarian Cultural Centre, is about to open an exhibition at its principal offices in London, at King Street, St James’s, of some of the finest work of this outstanding portrait painter. 

The exhibition will include many of his most important commissions on loan from the British Royal Collection, the National Trust, Lambeth Palace, Chequers, Mount Stewart on the Isle of Bute, and many distinguished private collections. The highlight of the exhibition, which will open on 6 January and run until 22 January, admission free, is a magnificent portrait of the late Queen Mother which the artist completed in 1925 when she was the Duchess of York. Wearing an off-the-shoulder blue dress and three strings of pearls, the best-loved member of the British Royal Family in modern times looks absolutely stunning. 

The exhibition is supported by the Hungarian Ministry of Cultural Heritage as part of Magyar Magic: Hungary in Focus 2004, a year-long celebration of Hungarian culture in the U.K. to mark the country’s admission to the European Union. 

Celebrating the artistic career of Philip Alexius de László (1869-1937), this unique event will comprise more than 90 paintings, including portraits of many members of the British and European royal families, famous politicians and other leading men and women of the day. 

De László’s life story merits that overworked phrase, from rags to riches. While he was studying in Munich, he met and fell in love with Lucy Guinness, of the famous Irish family. Lucy was on the grand tour with her sister, Eva, and when they left for Paris, Philip followed them, borrowing money for the fare. But Lucy’s family did not consider him a suitable suitor for their daughter, and her father forbade them to meet, and they did not see each other again for seven years. After the death of Lucy’s father, by which time Philip had many important commissions to his name, his circumstances were much improved. 

They met again and married in Ireland in 1900. The marriage was long and happy, and they had five sons, one born in Budapest, two in Vienna, and two in London. In 1907, the family had settled in London. The then leading portrait painter of the day, the American John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), had virtually retired, leaving the path to success clear for de László. 

A number of rarely seen pictures have been lent to the exhibition by the National Gallery of Hungarian Art in Budapest, including two of the artist’s most important early portrait commissions, of Pope Leo XIII and Cardinal Rampolla, both from 1900. In addition to the portrait that Philip did of the then Duchess of York, he also painted her parents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore, and these are on loan from Glamis Castle in Angus. Philip also painted the present Queen when she was a young girl in 1933, and that portrait, too, is in the exhibition. 

De László painted many of the great personalities of the age, including statesmen, soldiers, scientists, writers, actresses and aristocrats. A portrait of the romantic novelist Elinor Glyn was commissioned by Lord Curzon, a former viceroy of India, whom de László had painted in 1913. Curzon said to de László: "Make a splendid thing of her, with her white skin, dark eyebrows, green eyes, and Venetian red hair." 

The artist also painted the beautiful young actress and singer Anny Ahlers, who tragically died after a fall from a balcony before the portrait had been completed. The portrait had been commissioned by Sir Merrick Burrell, a well-known member of society at the time, whose daughter was persuaded to sit for the completion of the portrait, wearing Anny’s silk dress. 

De László also had considerable success in the United States, where his clients included presidents Franklin D Roosevelt, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, and many other eminent American citizens. 

He also painted the industrial magnates of his day, most notably a magnificent full-length portrait of the 1st Viscount Devonport. Among other distinguished male sitters were Lord Louis Mountbatten and Cosmo Gordon Lang (1864-1945), the Anglican prelate from Aberdeenshire, who went on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1928, retiring in 1942. 

A fully illustrated catalogue of the exhibition has been produced in colour, and should be available in bookshops now, price £30.


Special thany, a friend of the JSS Gallery, for sending these articles.



By:  Natasha Wallace
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Created 7/7/2004