Art Digest: The News and Opinion of the Art World,
1, 1937, p. 10
Philip de László, painter
of kings and presidents and leaders in the world of wealth, died at the
age of 68 at his home in Hampstead, England, on Nov. 22. De László,
who became a naturalized British subject in 1914, died without knowing
that he had received his native Hungary’s Covinus Badge, its highest artistic
award. When the telegram was received announcing the award and expressing
hopes for his recovery, de László was too ill to be told.
He died highly esteemed in his adopted land, the bitter memory of his internment
as a “dangerous alien” in 1917 forgotten as a case of “war nerves.”
The beginnings of the famed Hungarian-British
painter who rose to the position of “the most fashionable portrait painter”
of this century were humble. The son of poor parents who opposed his desire
to paint, he quit school at the age of ten and started earning small amounts
in a scene painter’s studio, where he made scale models and primed canvases.
From there he turned to painting porcelain and tinting photographs to earn
enough to attend the Industrial Art School in Budapest. Then he studied
for a while in Munich before moving on to Paris to paint his way through
l’Academie Julian in Paris. Fame came quickly and when he was 24 he was
summoned to Court to paint the late Ferdinand of Bulgaria. In 1912 he was
made a noble with the hereditary title by Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary,
whose portrait he painted. With the title came more commissions to paint
the crowned heads of Europe.
Critics vary as to the greatness
of de László’s talent. Some say that he had a rare insight
into character and a gift for seizing characteristic attitudes. On the
other hand, one critic in the London Times wrote that de László’s
latest portraits are not “so much a collection of real people as of people
giving brilliant impersonations of themselves in appropriate attitudes
and with appropriate gestures.” De László died without finishing
the portrait of King George V which he began recently for the Royal Veterinary
In 1909 the artist was invited by
the Italian Government to paint his self portrait for the Uffizi Palace
in Florence, where hang the likenesses of many of the world’s greatest
artists, caught by their own brushes.
In recent years de László
held numerous exhibitions in New York, and American Presidents took the
places of European Kings. In rapid succession he painted portraits of Presidents
Wilson [sic], Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. His portrait of Mrs. Coolidge,
once in the White House, now hangs at the University of Vermont. Other
prominent American sitters were Andrew W. Mellon, General Pershing, Walter
Hines Page, Charles E. Hughes, Frank B. Kellogg, Miss Anne Morgan, Mrs.
James B. Duke, Elihu Root, Mrs. Ogden Mills, Mrs. Jesse Isidor Straus,
and Adolph S. Ochs.
Special thanks to Matt Davies, of
Kansas City, a friend
of the JSS Gallery, for sending this article.