A great landscape painter recently introduced me to the work of early-20th-century artist Philip Alexius de László (1869–1937), whom up until that point I was not aware of. It came at a particularly apropos time, when I was developing a keen interest in the Victorian and early Edwardian periods and studying the style of such painters as Alma-Tadema, Waterhouse, Sargent, and Tarbell (and also admiring the delicate, feminine clothing women featured in these period portraits wore—and wishing we could return to that aesthetic!).
De László was a prolific portraitist widely recognized and lauded in his own day and considered by many to be an artistic equal of his contemporary John Singer Sargent. In fact, he became the preeminent portraitist of London in 1907 after Sargent stepped down to devote more time to his mural, landscape, and figure work. For the next three decades, de László painted some of the period’s most esteemed members of society and the aristocracy, from the British royal families to many of the greatest artists, writers, and musicians of the day.
Although the Hungarian artist was most revered by his colleagues and clients for his portrait work, he also frequently painted landscapes, and one of the first filmed documentations of an artist working en plein air belongs to him. This 1926 film of de László painting the bronze horses on the façade of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy, was shot on a 16-mm motion-picture camera given to the artist by George Eastman. The film can be seen below. (The finished plein air painting appears at the end.)
This and other film footage of the artist reside in the collection of the de László Archive Trust, which was set up to research, catalogue, and administer the artist’s paintings and archive. A team of editors worldwide is in the process of building a comprehensive catalogue raisonné of de László’s artwork, which is presently online. If you are interested in learning more, visit www.delaszloarchivetrust.com.