"Some Recent Portraits by Philip A. László", by By A.L. Baldry; The Studio, Vol. LIII No. 222 (September 1911), p. 261-268
(Frontpage (Thumbnail Index)  (more on Philip Alexius de Laszlo)
Some Recent Portraits by Philip A. László
by By A.L. Baldry
The Studio, Vol. LIII No. 222 (September 1911), p. 261-268
(Note: Baldry was also a friend of de László's. One of the few sculptures de Laszlo completed in his lifetime was a head of Baldry, and he also painted him several times.) 

There is always a certain difficulty in accounting for the success which an artist makes in his profession, a difficulty in explaining exactly why he secures the degree of popularity he enjoys and why he passes other men in the race for recognition. If prominence in the art world were always the reward of merit, if the man of distinguished ability always secured attention as a matter of course, and if popularity came to him invariably as a direct consequence of his display of the powers with which he was endowed, this difficulty would not exist; it would be pleasantly obvious that he had succeeded simply because with his natural equipment of high capacities he could not do anything else. 


But, unfortunately, there is no such ideal connection between merit and success; the artist who enjoys the largest measure of popularity is only too often a man of but moderate powers, while the genius who has every claim to attention is frequently allowed to languish in obscurity. The art world does not by any means accord immediate recognition to its greatest men, it forces them, indeed, in far too many cases to serve an exacting apprenticeship through a long term of years and to struggle hopelessly against chilling indifference which saps their energies and dulls their enthusiasm. Neglect, unluckily, is the commonest reward of merit, the penalty which the artist with great gifts has to pay for being better than his fellows and for presuming to rise above that level of mediocrity which the general public admires. 


Therefore a particular interest attaches to an artist who has proved himself to be a brilliant exception to a depressing rule, and who has taken a specially prominent place among the most popular painters of our time although he is possessed of quite exceptional command over the resources of his craft. Mr. P.A. László has put himself in the front rank without sacrificing an atom of his individuality, without surrendering anything of his personal conviction, and without hiding the fact that he is a superlatively skillful executant who can, and does, disregard the stock conventions of pictorial practice with a serene confidence in the rightness of his own point of view. It would be difficult to find a painter more definitely disciplined to accept the popular standard of tame mediocrity or one with a franker faith in the value of strenuous independence, and yet he has gained the completest acceptance from all types of art lovers. 


Of course if his work is judged in a rational manner - in the manner, that is to say, that an artist’s work is hardly ever judged by the public - it is easy enough to account for his success. He is, to begin with, an exceedingly shrewd student of character and a close observer of the many small details by which differences of personality are emphasized in the human subject, and therefore his portraits possess in a very high degree that quality of vitality which comes from correct characterisation. Then again, he has a delightful sense of style, a feeling for suavity of design and grace of arrangement that guides him always in his translation of nature into the terms of art; and in his seeking for the actuality which is essential in all sounds portraiture he never allows himself to descend into merely commonplace realism - he dignifies the obvious things by dealing with them in a broad and simple way, by suggesting them intelligently rather than by setting them down with mechanical precision. In addition, he has a masterly control over the processes of painting; he is a wonderfully certain draughtsman and he handles paint with a frank directness of touch that is surprisingly significant. He never fumbles with his materials, he never seems to hesitate or to be at a loss as to the way in which any particular piece of work should be carried out, and consequently his pictures have an air of spontaneity and clearness of intention that is unusually persuasive. They are convincing because, as it appears, he has made up his mind from the beginning about what he wanted to do and the way in which he was going to do it. 


To this endowment of capacities then, and to the possession of a temperament too virile and robust to allow him to be turned from the course he prescribed for himself, can be ascribed the progress he has made in the popular estimation during the comparatively short term of years that he has been before the public. He has depended upon his own merit, indisputably, for his success, but he has proved his merit in such a dominating and unhesitating fashion that he has compelled people to recognise him. Even if he had been far less able as an artist he would still have come to the front because it would have been impossible to deny attention to a man of so vigorous and forcible a personality - it is fortunate that what he has required the art world to accept from him has always been worthy of the sincerest consideration and always distinguished by a rare excellence of accomplishment. 


The work he is doing now shows very clearly the effect of the consistency with which in past years he strove to master what he conceived to be the essential principles of his art. Always a brilliantly facile executant, he has so trained and disciplined his facility that he has made it extraordinarily helpful in the expression of his exact and careful observation of nature. The danger of becoming superficial - a danger that generally lies in wait for the painter who has an assured command over the devices of mechanism - he has entirely avoided, and as his methods have matured they have gained as much in subtlety as they have in certainty. His sureness of touch and his directness of brushwork sever him now to perfection in his rapid and confident summing up of the personality of the sitter; they enable him to give his full attention to the realisation of his subject and to escape entirely that struggle between mind and hand which so often hampers the artist who has not properly learned his trace. 


His recent portraits, indeed, are specially memorable because illustrate a very important stage in his development, a stage at which he has arrived by the purposeful exercise of all his faculties and by deliberate working towards a well-defined end. To the grace and charm of manner which always claimed admiration in his earlier productions he has added a largeness of style and decisiveness of method which can be not less frankly admired, and by which the aims and intention of his art are made even more intelligible than they were in those days when he was making his first appeal for acceptance. He has gained, too, in his grasp of essential attributes of a personality that is indispensable for the painter who seeks to produce a fine portrait as opposed to a merely faithful likeness. 


The manner of his maturing is very plainly shown in a painting so striking and yet so finely restrained as his portrait of The Countess of Ancaster - a picture admirably designed and distinguished by notable decorative qualities, and yet marked by unusual intimacy of characterisation. Only an artist who had studied in all its aspects and who had leaned thoroughly how to suit himself to the exigencies of his subject could have succeeded so conspicuously in combining in just the right proportion the many components which are necessary for the building up a memorable pictorial achievement. Again, it is evident that only an artist with a perfectly developed understanding and an exact control over the mechanism of painting could have produced character studies as shrewd and convincing as the Lady Northcliffe, The Earl of Wemyss, and Charles Holme, Esq., or that wonderfully human record of the German Emperor, all of which are entirely acceptable as examples of the brief but yet significant summing up of the subtle facts that give meaning and expression to the properly treated portrait. 


In work which calls for more daintiness of manner, in such canvases, for example, as those charming representations of child life, the Miss Olive Troughton, and the delightfully spontaneous group of his own children, he is not less masculine in his methods, but he does not allow the vigour of his handling to spoil the delicacy of his sentiment or to conflict with the simplicity of treatment which is appropriate to subjects of this type. Yet both in these exercises and in his more deliberately elegant arrangements, like the prettily designed study of Lady Ross, he is quite as obviously a master of executive resource as in those more ambitious and spectacular works which he has produced in such numbers during the last few years. Through all the phases of his practice, indeed, he keeps to the same level of artistic intelligence. His sense of responsibility never wavers and his strenuous pursuit of a worthy ideal is never relaxed; there is an equal degree of significance in everything he undertakes and there is just the amount of technical certainty and practical skill that is appropriate in each case. 


This fine balance of qualities has, of course, been attained only by that constant striving for perfection to which from the beginning the artist is committed who wishes to be sure in his own mind that he deserves the popularity he enjoys. Mr. László, if he had been like so many other painters who have ranked as favourites of the public, might well have remained satisfied with the reception given to his earlier works, but as he happens to be a sincere artist as well as a popular painter he has always been anxious to justify as fully as possible his right to the position he occupies. In aiming at perfection he has guided his capacities consistently in the direction which would lead him step by step to the fullest development of his art - to that maturing, in fact, which would give him the breadth of scope and the variety of resource that make possible the production of things fit to live in art history. That he has done much that will live is decidedly not to be disputed; in recent years he has had great opportunities and he has been able to profit amply by them because he has arrived at that stage in his progress in which he is equal to almost any demand that can be made upon him. 


It can safely be said that he has not by any means exhausted his possibilities as an artist, that having gone so far he will go farther yet. He is still too young a man to have shed his enthusiasm or to have lost that ambition to overcome difficulties which has spurred him to attack the most complicated problems of the painter’s practice; he is still too receptive and too susceptible to new impressions to have reached any finality in his methods of expression. Besides, his artistic conscience is too active to allow him to give way to the temptation to conventionalize his work and to find in inspired formality a way of evading his more serious responsibilities. Up to the present time his tendency has been chiefly in the direction of a kind of steadying of his capacities; he has been learning how to make most efficient a personality which might easily have got out of control by reason of its exuberant strength. But now that he has all his faculties under discipline and that he has acquired a true understanding of the way in which they can best be used, there is no fear that he will lapse into convention or stray into extravagance. He is a sane, sincere, and well-balanced artist who knows not only what he intends to do but also how his intentions can best be realised; and he is too wholesomely ambitions to be content even with the large measure of success that he has already secured. 


- A.L. Baldry 

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

p. liv – “My Children, Stephen and Paul” (“The Bubble Blowers”) [1910] 

p. 261 – Portrait of the Artist [1911] 

p. 262 – Miss Olive Troughton (or Trouton) 

p. 263 – Sketch Portrait of the Emperor William II [prob. 1909] 

p. 265 – The Countess of Ancaster 

p. 266 – Lady Northcliffe [1911] 

p. 267 – The Earl of Wemyss and March [1908] 

p. 268 – Charles Holme, Esq. [1908] 

p. 269 – Lady Ross [1911 




By:  Natasha Wallace
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Created 3/20/2003
Updated 08/22/2003