Philip Alexius de László,
M.V.O., P.R.B.A., 1869 Budapest - 1937 London

 
Born Laub Fülöp on 30 April 1869 in Budapest, the family took the name László in 1891. After 1912, when Philip László was ennobled by the Emperor Franz Josef, he became known as Philip de László. His family was a humble one. He was the eldest son of a family of nine, of whom only five children survived. From a very early age, he was driven by an unshakable vocation to succeed as an artist, sustained by a hard-working nature.

He was employed as a set designer, a porcelain and maiolica painter, as a sign writer, and in 1884, he became an apprentice to the famous portrait photographer Sándor Strelisky, thus supporting his mother in raising the family. While fulfilling his three-year contract, he entered the School of Applied Arts in 1884, and the Drawing School in 1886, at the end of which he earned his first state art scholarship.
Philip Alexius de Laszlo
Philip (on right) aged 12 with his brother Marczi
 
Philip Alexius de Laszlo
The artist aged 26 in Dresden
At an unusually young age his talent won him a place as a student at the National Academy of Arts (1885-89), with Bertalan Székely and Károly Lotz as masters; then to the Royal Bavarian Academy of Art in Munich (1889-90 and 1891-92), under Liezen-Mayer; and to the Académie Julian in Paris (1890-91), under Jacques-Jules Lefebvre and Benjamin Constant.

During his formative years he devoted himself to history and genre painting.
 
The most important works he produced during that time were Felicián Zách , L’Incroyable, and above all The Hofbräuhaus. However, de László soon turned to portraiture, at which he had already tried his hand in 1889, commissioned as he was to paint the portrait of an influential lawyer from Ó-Becse, in rural Hungary, Dr Galambos. In 1894, de László received his first important commissions with the support of his friend Alexius de Lippich, the Secretary of the Fine Arts Department in the Hungarian Ministry of Education. The Royal Family of Bulgaria sat for him, followed in 1899 by the Emperor Franz Josef.
The Hofbräuhaus
The Hofbräuhaus, 1892
Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest
   
Philip Alexius de Laszlo
Self-portrait, 1911
1900 was a decisive year for de László. Not only did he marry his long-awaited love Lucy Guinness in June, but also, after painting several members of the German Imperial Family, he travelled to Rome in early March to paint Pope Leo XIII, which won him international fame, and the Grand Gold Medal at the Paris International Exhibition that year. After the death of their baby daughter in Budapest in 1903 the artist and his wife left the studio-house de László had built there to live in Vienna and they settled in England in 1907.

By now they had three sons Henry, Stephen, and Paul. Two more sons, Patrick and John, born in London, completed the family (shown below) and from this base, de László travelled the world from one successful commission to another.

Having made his name so rapidly as a young man, he consolidated his reputation world-wide in the first decade of the twentieth century, and by the time of his death held twenty-two orders and seventeen medals of merit bestowed upon him by royal and presidential sitters throughout the western world. His appointment as M.V.O. by King Edward VII in 1909 was his proudest moment and his election to succeed Sickert as President of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1930 confirmed his place at the head of his profession. Contemporary appreciation of his extraordinary achievement is encapsulated in his great patron Lord Selborne’s question, “Has any one painter ever before painted so many interesting and historical personages?”

Philip Alexius de Laszlo
De László’s studio-house, Pálma utca, Budapest, 1897
 
Philip Alexius de Laszlo
Philip and Lucy de László
and their five sons, 1913
Nevertheless, after the Second World War, de László undeniably fell into comparative obscurity, however undeserved, until the resounding success of A Brush with Grandeur. This exhibition was held at Christie’s London in January 2004, presented by the Hungarian Ministry of Cultural Heritage as part of Magyar Magic, the Festival of Arts arranged by the Hungarian Cultural Centre in London, November 2003-November 2004

The publication of the Catalogue Raisonné of the works of P.A. de László will build on the renewed appreciation of this important artist and re-establish him in his rightful position alongside his great contemporaries such as John Singer Sargent, Sir John Lavery and Giovanni Boldini.