“The Who’s Who Painter” (Private Lives, No. 137: Philip de László)
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“The Who’s Who Painter”
(Private Lives, No. 137: Philip de László) 
by “The Private Secretary,” The Passing Show, Vol. 3, No.137,
Odham’s Press, London,
November 3, 1934

In Paris, round the Latin Quarter; hanging about New York’s Greenwich Village, along the King’s Road, Chelsea, you may see them to this day. “An Artist!” the man in the street will point, and as like as not you will see something in long hair and a flowing velvet tie, probably a beard, and a coat of velvet, too.

You cannot always tell an artist. If you see someone who looks like a dentist or an elderly statesman, that man is probably an artist. What these curious figures in beards and ties are, no one has yet found out.

Philip de László, for instance—the portrait painter who is making history with his brush. This artist who has painted almost every royal personage in Europe looks like nothing more than an ambassador, or court official.

He was born in Budapest in 1869, and is a naturalised British subject. His silver hair, his deliberate, courtly manner, that charm which comes to him from the exercise of poise—all that marks him down as a diplomat. But he is an artist. And a great one of his day.

His full name is Philip Alexius László de Lombos, and foreign honours lie thick upon him.

In 1912 he was ennobled by the Emperor of Austria. France has made him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. He is, to-day, a great admirer of Mussolini and his affection for Italy is of long standing.

De László is an easy man to know. He is not of the unapproachable sort. You should meet him in his delightful home in Hampstead.

You would expect beauty in the home of an artist, yet this house is more than beautiful. There is a stately grace about it that fits the man. The furniture has a mellowness, a patina, that can come only to fine woods, and then only after many years of care and polish.

There is exquisite glass, priceless silver, porcelain. It takes an artist to collect objects of vertu such as these. The studio is gay with colour, yet it is a craftsman’s room. You will probably meet him in this studio.

László is a brilliant talker. But he does not talk of art. He will discuss international affairs with the keenness of a banker, foreign policy with the knowledge of a journalist.

Sometimes he will tell you of his sitters, but not often. Like all diplomats, László is discreet.

He has all the gestures and mannerisms of the grand seigneur. And certainly none of those of the traditional artist. No one would call him a handsome man. His features are not distinguished; they are heavy and even to the point of coarseness. And László is bald.

Yet, he is animated from within by his personality, and the result is a fine dignity of expression. His face, in fact, resembles his portraits, or the way he has of painting them. It records character.

He is admittedly a “fashionable” portrait painter, but his portraits seldom flatter the sitter.

“If a sitter has a cruel, or maybe unjust, strain in his character,” he says, “and that strain is there, in his face, I must put it into the picture to make the portrait.”

He does not approve entirely of make-up for women.

Too often, he considers, it conceals character. He holds, too, that overemphasis of the hair, or elaboration of dress effects are bad.

He once insisted that a society girl should remove some of her rouge and lipstick when she sat for him. After some argument, she did so, with the result that when her father, who had paid a fortune for the portrait, saw the picture he was displeased.

“It is not like my daughter,” he said. “You do not know,” László told him, “what your daughter really looks like. Ask her to remove some of the pigments from her face, and you will see your real daughter.”

Once again he girl removed the make-up from her complexion, and this time she removed it for good. Her father liked her better that way.

He likes to work in his studio in the early mornings. Through the French windows is a vista of green lawns and trees. In spite of the fact that he is sixty-five years old, he seldom tires at his work. He will work long hours in the studio, then change and go out to dine with his wife and visit a theatre.

It was in 1900 that he married Lucy Madeleine, a Guinness from County Dublin.

They have five sons. They are both to-day as keen music-lovers as they were thirty-four years ago. His favourite relaxation is to sit in his large armchair, his eyes half shut as he listens to Mrs. de László play her violin to him.

Other evenings you will find him reading history, and books on international economics. He has a fine library, and it is not confined to one language—or two. László speaks and reads German, French, Hungarian, and Italian, of course. He loves Italy.

If Philip de László painted his portraits as well as he plays golf, paving stones would to-day be his medium, not canvas. Skill with the little white sphere has evaded him, in spite of years of pursuit. His handicap, like the fees he receives for his portraits, is generous. But the exercise does him just as much good.

The László boys are scholars. He divided his family between Oxford and Cambridge, showing an impartiality in the matter which is much to be complimented—on general grounds.

As a family matter, it is doubtful whether the scheme has been productive. Of good accord. For the László ménage, the only good result of a university contest, is a drawn game.

László is only a moderate smoker. He is fond a good cigarette. He is very fond of travel, too, and he likes the City of Paris.

With other great artists he shares a liking for birds of all sizes, songsters and otherwise, decorative and unornate—in fact, birds as birds. He feeds them on his lawn and is well known locally as a good sportsman who is free with his crumbs.

László has known Princess Marina since she was a child of six. The portrait of her which he has just completed has been a particular pleasure to him. By any it is considered a particularly fine piece of work.

There has recently come to the László family an event of some interest. The first grandchild has arrived, and never was there a prouder, or more bewildered grandfather than Philip de László.

You may see him frequently now, this painter of royalty, with his brush and palette laid aside. In that studio he is on his hands and knees, and to the youngest de László he is just another grandfather.

To the rest of the world he must remain a great painter.

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


By:  Natasha Wallace
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Created 9/24/2004