Alfred Lys Baldry, “Some Paintings and Drawings by Mr. P.A. de László,”
(Frontpage (Thumbnail Index)  (more on Philip Alexius de Laszlo)
Some Paintings and Drawings by Mr. P.A. de László
by Alfred Lys Baldry
Vol. LXXXI, No. 335 
(February 1921), pp. 44-57

There seems to have come into existence during the last few years a new conception that the aim and purpose of drawing - a new view, that is to say, of what draughtsmanship means and of its function as a mode of expression. A generation ago or so the student was taught by the indispensable thing to seek for was absolute accuracy in the statement of fact, that he must set down what he saw with the strictest regard for truth; and that the faculty to represent realities with painstaking elaboration was one which he must sedulously cultivate. Any attempt on his part to develop a style of his own or to evolve a personal convention was rigorously suppressed; to give way to an inclination of that sort was altogether against the rules because it might lead to looseness of method and to an evasion of the draughtsman’s strict responsibility. Quality of line, it is true, was not ignored, but it was accounted as a matter of secondary importance in comparison with the exact presentation of every detail of the subject; it was quite permissible to sacrifice it if thereby greater correctness could be ensured.

Now, the theory of draughtsmanship is almost entirely reversed; strict accuracy of statement is no longer insisted upon as the one and only aim of the student, and quality of line is put forward as a particular consideration. A drawing has to be a kind of decorative exercise, and even distortions of natural form and perversions of fact are allowed if the general decorative effect satisfies the modern idea. Nature need not be copied, but can be transcribed and altered to suit the artist's scheme of design; and the characteristic details of the subject can be emphasized and exaggerated to almost any extent, if by emphasis that subject can be brought more fully up to the latest standard is one which recognises even caricature as legitimate.

Really, it cannot be said that either the past or the present conception of the draughtsman’s obligations is to be accepted as correct. Against the unnecessary pedantry of the old days we have now a rebellion which to a considerable extent has got out of hand; instead of excessive restrictions we have undisciplined freedom, and there is some danger that in the license of the moment we may forget what was good in the more precise methods of our predecessors. In most traditions there is something worthy of respect amid much that is out of date or obsolete, and the wise man sorts out the odds and ends which have come down to him from a previous generation to see what he can with advantage to convert to his own uses.

For this reason the work of such an artist as Mr. de László deserves to be held up as an example to modern students. He has sifted the dust of traditions and he has found in it a good deal worth keeping. Yet he is no pedant and no follower of mechanical and stereotypical principles, and his art certainly does not belong to the past. These drawings of his, which are illustrated here, show how well the habit of close and intimate observation and of sound appreciation of realities can be allied with thorough consideration for line quality and a sound sense of decorative arrangement, how correctness of subject record can be retained without loss of directness and spontaneity, and how subtleties of characterisation can be expressed without making them over-emphatic.

This series, indeed, provides what is at the same time a test and a demonstration of his capacities as a draughtsman. It is a test, because it includes drawings of sitters of very different types and ages and, therefore, would be likely to show any want of flexibility there might be in his methods and any failure he might make in judging the essential facts in his subjects. It is a demonstration, because it proves that he does not sacrifice either the decorative completeness of his pictorial design or the fluent ease of his line statement in arriving at what he considers a necessary measure of portrait realism. In addition, it throws a very clear light upon what is really the fundamental principle of the whole of his practice and the distinguishing characteristic of his art.

For it is pre-eminently by his draughtsmanship that Mr. de László has gained the position which he occupies to-day in the art world. The study of form, the investigation of intricacies of line, the observation of contours and space boundaries have always been with him matters of engrossing interest, and to them all through his career a very full share of his attention has been directed. He has learned to draw with almost uncanny certainty and with a speed and facility that are often amazing; but his certainty is the outcome of knowledge, and his facility is a result of his instantaneous grasp of the things that count in the subject before him.

That is why he gets so much into his drawings, and that is why they can be so interesting as arrangements of decorative line and still so satisfying as portraits; that is why studies like the Diane Chamberlain, and Mary van Loon, and the fascinating little Beatrice Phillips, are so attractive as line patterns and yet so significant as records of human types. They have style, they have in ample measure the personal touch, they are modern enough in manner of treatment, but all the same they have insistently the reality and the truth to nature which the artists of years ago strove to attain by far more laborious means. Evidently, it is not necessary for the student who wishes to strike the modern note to throw aside all that tradition prescribes; here is the proof that he can be spontaneous, decorative, “calligraphic,” and all of the rest, without resorting to conventional distortions of the human shape and without forcing characterisation over the boundaries of caricature.

What can be said of Mr. de László's drawings applies equally to his paintings, the method is the same, and it is only the means by which it is carried out that is different. He draws just as decisively and definitely with a brush as he does with pencil or chalk, and he is just as closely concerned with the arrangement and the character of his lines. Fundamentally, the procedure is the same in the Study of Diane Chamberlain and the brilliantly expressive portrait of Lord Lansdowne, and there is much spontaneity of draughtsmanship in the picture of the child, Gertrude Laughlin, as in the finely summarised Portrait Study (p. 51). In the paintings the lines are amplified by tones, broadened and enlarged, but they are there just the same, and by their decorative strength they give coherence and meaning to the pictorial arrangement.

It is a point worth considering whether in work like Mr. de László’s we have not the best suggestion available at the moment of the lines along which modern art should be developed. In British art the study of form has been to a great extent subordinated to the pursuit of colour, and drawing has been made a matter of laborious effort with the point rather than - as it should be - with the brush. Even in the modern school, with all its protests against the past, this fallacy persists, and drawing is regarded as penmanship rather than brushwork. It would be better to recognise that s the painter's mission is to paint he ought to learn the sort of drawing that will help him to put on his paint in the proper way and to retain in it the qualities of line statement that will give to it a right degree of vitality. Mr. de László, with his Continental training, has acquired this type of drawing, and that it serves him well his work shows conclusively. The way in which he uses it is, of course, personal to himself and to imitate it would be foolish; but the principles of his practice could be applied to equal advantage in almost all kinds of personal expression.

It was certainly his continental training, the prolonged and arduous discipline in drawing prescribed in the schools he attended at Buda-Pesth, Munich, and Paris, that developed his perception of form and this insight into variations of line. In Paris particularly he learned the value of simplification - how to grasp instantly the large character of his subject and how to realise infallibly its more salient and important essentials. Now, in his matured methods he seeks as surely for truth and for the maintenance of right principles as he ever did in his student days.

- A. L. Baldry.

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

p. 44 - The Most Honourable the Marquess of Lansdowne, K.G. (Color) [1920]

p. 45 - Beatrice Philips (Drawing) [1920]

p. 46 - Sketch for “The First Drawing Lesson” [1919] 

p. 47 - Diane Chamberlain [c. 1920]

p. 49 - Gertrude Laughlin [1919]

p. 50 - Johnny [de László] (Drawing) 

p. 51 – “Portrait Study” (Drawing) [1920]

p. 52 - Mary van Loon (Drawing) 

p. 53 - Mr. And Mrs. De László and Eldest Son (Oil Painting) [1918]

p. 54 - "From an Early Study by P.A. De László, M.V.O." (Study for Felician Zach) [1896]

p. 55 - "Profile Study" (Drawing)

p. 57 - Miss Faith Moore at Chequers [1920]




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