Philip de László, papers

Scope and Content

The records held by the National Portrait Gallery archive relating to Philip de László were received in three separate accessions: 1982/01, 2005/01 and 2011/01, a summary of the contents of each accession is as follows:

1982/01 consists of 19 photograph albums containing images of de László's portraits. The content of the albums is arranged chronologically, some albums span more than one year. The earliest album is annotated by de László 'Record of my works, 1916', further annotations by de László throughout the albums include sitter name and the date of work. The portraits documented in the albums were painted between 1903 and 1937.

2005/01 largely contains correspondence, including letters, postcards, telegrams, invitations, visiting cards and draft replies. It also contains press cuttings and other printed material, including some exhibition ephemera. The original order of these records which was devised by de László and his secretaries has largely survived. The records fall broadly into the following series: Personal correspondence 1892-1937; Family correspondence 1921-1936; Hungarian and German correspondence 1893-1937; Spanish, Portuguese and Italian correspondence 1894-1936; US correspondence 1927-1928; Court (royal) correspondence 1895-1916; Studio (portrait) correspondence 1891-1937; Press cuttings 1915-1933; Exhibition correspondence 1920-1936; Selected letters, mainly royal correspondence 1898-1935.

2011/01 consists of records relating to de László's internment during the First World War. It includes correspondence relating to de László's internment, including correspondence to Lucy de László; de László's written statement of defence to the Alien Advisory Committee; press cuttings and character witness statements in defence of the artist for the Naturalisation Committee, 1919. c. 1909-1919

Administrative / Biographical History

Philip Alexius de László (1869-1937) was born in Budapest, Hungary, the eldest son of Adolphus László, a tailor, and his wife Johanna who had been a governess before her marriage. He received little formal education and was brought up in poor circumstances, at ten he began working for a scene painter and learned photographic retouching. In 1884 he began studies at the School of Arts and Crafts and in 1885 at the Academy of Arts in Budapest. He won a state scholarship to study in Venice at the age of nineteen but illness interrupted his time there and he went on to study under Alexander von Liezen-Mayer at the Akademie der Bildenden Kunste in Munich. He also spent a short time in 1890-1891 studying at the Academie Julian in Paris before returning to Munich for another two years.

As a young artist de László's ambitions spanned plein-air genre scenes and historical subjects, his Im Hofbrauhaus was a sensation at the winter exhibition in Budapest in 1892. He met Alexius de Lippich, an official in the fine arts department of the ministry of education, in late 1893 who began to secure portrait commissions for de László including in 1894 the portraits of Prince Ferdinand and Princess Marie-Louise of Bulgaria. These portraits marked the beginning of him painting the courts of Europe, he was particularly popular with the German nobility and regular displays of his work at the Paris salon resulted in his fame spreading beyond mainland Europe.

In June 1900 he married Lucy Madeleine, sixth daughter of Henry Guinness of Burton Hall, Stillorgan, county Dublin. They would have five sons. In 1903 de László moved from Budapest to Vienna before settling in London in 1907. His arrival was preceded by an exhibition of his work at the Fine Art Society which saw him gain a commission from Edward VII for a sketch of Princess Victoria (NPG 5396) followed by half length portraits of the King and Queen Alexandra. In 1908 he made his first visit to the United States and painted Theodore Roosevelt. Between 1911 to 1914 he exhibited annually at the Royal Academy.

De László became a British subject on 29 August 1914. During the First World War he committed various indiscretions, including sending money to his relatives in Hungary and using the Dutch diplomatic bag for correspondence. These led to him being interned in September 1917 until June 1919, no evidence was ultimately found of disaffection or disloyalty.

On the face of it de László's post war career was as successful as it had been pre war; he continued to be in demand by the British aristocracy and in 1921 he painted President Warren Harding. He was awarded 21 foreign orders during his lifetime but in Britain he never progressed beyond the MVO awarded by Edward VII in 1910 – wartime xenophobia continued after the war in Britain. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters from 1913, elected president of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1930 and became vice-president of the Royal Society of Arts in 1937. Attempts to exhibit at the Royal Academy after the First World War were met with rejection however and the Royal Family did not commission him again until 1925 when he painted the Duchess of York. In 1936 he suffered a heart attack but continued to work, he suffered another attack whilst painting in October 1937 and died at home on 22 November 1937.

This biographical description is largely based on Robin Gibson, 'Laszlo, Philip Alexius de (1869–1937)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 25 April 2017]

Access Information

Available to view by appointment in the Heinz Archive and Library Public Study Room, to make an appointment contact Archive Reception . Although records are generally available for public consultation, some information in them, such as personal data or information supplied to the Gallery in confidence, may be restricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Personal photography is permitted for research purposes only. Photocopying is not permitted.

Related Material

Philip de de László's sitters books for the years 1899-1937 are held by the British Library (Add MS 45095-45096).