Learn more about Philip de László

Early years

Philip de László, self-portrait, 1888 - © de Laszlo Foundation.

Philip de László, self-portrait, 1888.
Private collection.
Photographed by Roy Fox Fine Art Photography.
© de Laszlo Foundation.

Born in Budapest on 30 April 1869, de László came from a poor family and received little formal education.  From the age of ten he was employed by a scene-painter and at fifteen he began studying art at the School of Applied Arts in Budapest.  He graduated to the Academy of Fine Arts two years later and in 1889-90 moved to the Academy in Munich.  In 1890-1 he spent a year at the Académie Julian in Paris before he returned to Munich for a further two years to complete his studies.

In late 1893 he met Elek Lippich, an official in the fine arts department of the ministry of education, who began to secure portrait commissions for the young artist, including several royal sitters, which would mark the beginning of his rapid rise as painter to the courts of Europe. 

De László regularly exhibited work in the winter exhibitions held at the Hungarian Fine Arts Society in Budapest and from the mid-1890s portrait commissions proliferated, including the Hungarian prime minister Sándor Wekerle (1894) and the Emperor Franz Josef I (1898).  Further success followed showings of his work at the Paris Salon and in 1900 he won the gold medal for his portrait of Pope Leo XIII.

Life in Britain

Lucy de László, the artist’s wife, by Philip de László, 1902 -  © de Laszlo Foundation.

Lucy de László, the artist’s wife, by Philip de László, 1902.
Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Art
Photograph by Roy Fox Fine Art Photography.
© de Laszlo Foundation.

In 1900 de László married Lucy, daughter of Henry Guinness of Burton Hall, Stillorgan, Co. Durham.  Following the success of a solo exhibition at the Fine Art Society, which resulted in several commissions from King Edward VII, including half-length portraits of the King and Queen (Royal Collection), the couple settled in London in 1907.  In 1912 de László was raised to the Hungarian nobility with the hereditary title de Lombos.

De László became a British subject in August 1914, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War.  However, in spite of this, he was incarcerated at Brixton Prison in September 1917 for sending money to support his family in Hungary.  Following a nervous breakdown he was released and put under house arrest.  In June 1919 when his case was reviewed no evidence of disloyalty as found and he was formally released. 

During the 1920s and 1930s de László continued to work relentlessly; by his own calculation, he estimated he painted 2,700 portraits over the course of his career.  These included members of the majority of royal houses of Europe, European political leaders, British aristocracy and establishment.  He was elected president of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1930 and vice-president of the Royal Society of Arts in 1937.  He died of a heart attack on 22 November 1937.