The London Studio, February 1938
(Frontpage (Thumbnail Index)  (more on Philip Alexius de Laszlo)
A. L. Baldry, 
“Philip A. de László: An Appreciation,” 
The London Studio, February 1938, p. 83-86

It is sad indeed that we should have to mourn the death of Philip de László in the full tide of his success and at an age when he might fairly have been expected to continue his brilliant career for many more years. We grieve especially because there has been lost to us not only an artist whose right to a place among the most eminent portrait painters of our time has been proved beyond dispute, but also a man whose singular charm of character had endeared him greatly to a host of friends. That by the consistent excellence of his accomplishment he had earned a world-wise reputation is a matter of common knowledge, and it is true that he had gained as well a measure of popularity such as only the most favoured artist can ever hope o enjoy; but the high estimation in which his work is universally held is due to something more than the remarkable technical skill which he habitually displayed in every branch of his practice.

Great gifts— and these he certainly had — do not always receive the popular recognition to which they may fairly be entitled; that they have been in his case so widely recognized is because in the style and manner of his achievement we can see reflected the extraordinary attractiveness of his personality. Few painters, in fact, have shown as convincingly how important a part an artist’s temperament is able to play in determining the character of the work he produces.

The atmosphere which pervades the whole of de László’s art is essentially one which only a man such as he was, with a joyous outlook on like, could have created — a man by nature warm-hearted, impulsive and generous, who thought instinctively for what was best in the world about him. This habit of mind served him well in his professional study of varying human types, for it gave him markedly the power to discover what were the more engaging qualities in the mental endowment of his sitter and to make these qualities apparent in the painted portrait. Hence came that pleasant air of geniality and good fellowship which seems always to be present in any gathering of his pictures — the people who had sat to him look as if they had really enjoyed being painted and the canvases themselves suggest that he had found the producing of them to be a labour of love.

Indeed, it might fairly be said that the freshness and liveliness of technical treatment which so definitely distinguish the whole of his work would scarcely have been possible without the complete sympathy which he had been able to establish between his subject and himself; but, decidedly, when once, through his psychological insight, he had found the congenial spirit for which he was searching, there was no hesitation or uncertainty in his effort to show this spirit clearly in his pictorial record. If now and then he painted a dull canvas, or one in which he seemed not wholly sure of himself, it was always when he had come in contact with an unresponsive soul by which he was repelled.

But the occasions when he did not really do himself justice were surprisingly few, surprising because it is none too easy for an artist to avoid the danger of becoming lifeless and stereotyped when he has to deal year in and year out with a comparatively limited type of material — the temptation to adopt a sort of mechanical facility is one which the successful portrait painter must often find it very hard to resist. But de László did resist it, and with complete success, because to him very additional sitter was fresh material for examination and analysis and each new canvas just one more problem which had to be carefully considered and fully solved. Moreover, he had most notable the ability to concentrate the whole of his attention on the subject before him and to make it for the time being the one and only matter with which he was concerned, a capacity which put definitely out of his mind any idea of resorting to a formula as an easy way of shirking his responsibilities. 

Yet he had a manner which set the seal of his individuality upon everything he did and made his work conspicuously different from that of nay of his contemporaries — he occupied a place apart in the art world of to-day. A manner, however, is not the same as a mannerism, and with him it was nothing more than the particular executive method which he preferred to use in dealing with pictorial facts. On this preference he based a style that was thoroughly in accord with his temperament and most significant in its expression of his cultivated taste. It was a style that combined with an air of quiet distinction a confidence of statement that was pleasantly convincing, and one of its happiest characteristics was the animation that he delighted to bring to his treatment of the human subject. He certainly intended that his portraits should never be open to criticism as conventional studies of somnolent lay figures; the people he represented in them were very much awake and showed an alertness of pose and gesture that was the direct reflection of his own keen and alert attitude to life. After all, if by the sympathy which — as has been said before — he was able to induce them to share his joy in the creation of the picture it is not surprising that he could, through the same sympathy, transmit to them something of the abounding vitality by which the style he had developed was obviously inspired.

But as this style was essentially a personal one, the natural outcome of his own aesthetic beliefs, it was subject to modifications when he himself saw occasion to vary in some details the convictions by which he was guided in the practice of his art. He was always a student, receptive and observant, and his response to fresh influences that seemed to be worth taking seriously was ready and sincere. During the period of more than thirty years over which his like in this country extended he appreciably altered the manner of his work because he became, as time went on, more and more interested in the achievement of such British masters as Reynolds, Gainsborough and Raeburn, and allowed that interest to affect perceptibly his own performance. Hardly any of the continental feeling, which was the natural result of his training abroad, quite evident in his earlier work, can be traced in his later pictures; indeed these are for the most part eminently British in conception and follow very successfully the best traditions of out native school of portraiture. That he should be so willing to profit by new experiences and to change methods that could, he saw, be improved upon is an excellent proof of his openness of mind and freedom from cramping prejudice.

As for the confidence of statement which helped to make convincing the manner of his pictures it cannot be doubted that it was owing in no small degree to a well-adjusted belief that his capacities as a craftsman would be equal to any reasonable demand that he might impose upon them. He had, indeed, acquired by assiduous effort a command over all the technicalities of painting that was extraordinarily complete, and not less complete was the schooling to which he had subjected his naturally acute perceptions. Consequently his mind and hand were in absolute harmony; he was a very exact and expressive draughtsman with an accurate sense of form and a thorough understanding of structural detail, he had a most sensitive appreciation of subtleties of tone relation and delicate modulations of colour and sound and had an appropriate dignity. There were, in fact, few problems of the painter’s craft with which he was not fully qualified to deal.

So we may well be glad that he can be added to that distinguished band of accomplished artists of foreign birth who from time to time have come here and made their home amongst us. He was heartily British in all his sympathies and one of his most earnest desires was that the British art of to-day should prove itself worthy of its great inheritance and be true to its best traditions. That in his own achievement he set a splendid example of sincerity and singleness or purpose no one can deny — it is an example that is assuredly worth following.

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

P. 83 – Bronze bust of de László by W. C. H. King

p. 84 – The Late Henry William Edmond Fitzmaurice, D.S.O., M.V.O., Sixth Marquess of Lansdowne [1935]

Below: The Right Hon. The Viscount Dawson of Penn, G.C.V.O., K.C.B., M.W., F.R.C.P. [1937] (By courtesy of Wildenstein Galleries, London)

p. 85 – Philip de László painted many children and these here reproduced are from the Wildenstein Exhibition. Above: The Lady Elizabeth and the Lord Hugh Percy [1924]. 
Right: David, son of Captain Michael and the Lady Victoria Wemyss [1925]

Below: Elizabeth Mary, daughter of the Late George Taylor Ramsden, Esq., and Mrs. Ramsden [1924] and Olive, daughter of the late Professor Troughton and Mrs. Troughton [1911].

p. 86 – Portrait of A. L. Baldry, Esq. [1937] Mr. Baldry, author of this article and recorder of ed László’s book, Painting a Portrait (The Studio Ltd.), was for many years a close friend of the artist. He is also himself a painter and has written several books on painting and painters.

On the Nile. Although known chiefly for his portraiture, de László also found other interesting subjects to paint during his trips abroad. This painting of a boat on the Nile shows his quick but certain method, very similar in technique to his portrait painting. (Both paintings were shown at the Wildenstein Exhibition.)

p. 87 – A recent portrait of His Majesty King George II of Greece. A fine example of portrait sketching, for which de László was so famous. (Wildenstein Galleries, London)

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



By:  Natasha Wallace
Copyright 1998-2004 all rights reserved
Created 7/7/2004