Sargent's Successor: Philip Alexius de LÃ¡szlÃ³
One hundred and forty years ago today, Philip Alexius de LÃ¡szlÃ³ (1869-1937) was born in Hungary as Laub FÃ¼lÃ¶p Elek. From a humble beginning, LÃ¡szlÃ³ grew up to become one of the most important portrait painters of the 20th century, with everyone from Pope Leo XIII to four American presidents (Roosevelt, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover) sitting for him. As his patron Lord Selborne once asked, "Has any one painter ever before painted so many interesting and historical personage?"
1. At age 7, or maybe 10, the then-Princess Elizabeth of York sat for a LÃ¡szlÃ³ portrait that her mother, the Duchess of York, had commissioned. Recently asked if she remembered the first time she sat for an artist, Queen Elizabeth recalled her sitting for LÃ¡szlÃ³, letting slip that she thought he was a "horrible" person. The royal biographer believes she may have just meant the artist was "a bit foreign and stern." The young princess was apparently "very sleepy and restless" during her sitting, according to LÃ¡szlÃ³'s own account, but he still described her as "intelligent and full of character." (LÃ¡szlÃ³'s portrait of Princess Elizabeth is above, on the right.)
2. George Eastman had his portrait painted by LÃ¡szlÃ³ in 1916. He later gifted the artist with a 16mm motion picture camera, one of the first of its kind. The camera was used to film a black and white silent film of LÃ¡szlÃ³ painting the portrait of a fashion model. (Watch the film here.)
3. During the First World War, LÃ¡szlÃ³, who was living in England, was interned on suspicion of being an "enemy alien." Some accounts state this suspicion arose from his letters home to his family or his having given Â£1 to a begging Hungarian refugee; the real story is a little more complex. One night, a "starving and unkempt" man arrived at LÃ¡szlÃ³'s house, stating he was an Austrian officer escaped from Donington Hall and asking for help. Taking pity on the man, LÃ¡szlÃ³ gave him some food and a sovereign and sent him on his way. Realizing "the folly of his actions" the next day, LÃ¡szlÃ³ reported the incident, leading to the capture of the escapee but also to an investigation of LÃ¡szlÃ³ himself. Upon discovering the artist had forwarded money to relatives back home, the Secret Service interned LÃ¡szlÃ³ for the duration of the war. After the war, official proceedings were conducted to determine if LÃ¡szlÃ³ would be allowed to retain his certificate of British nationality.
4. Prior to his internment during WWI, LÃ¡szlÃ³ was commanding Â£1,000 per full-length portrait, the equivalent of Â£100,000 today. In America, his prices were $14,000 per full-length portrait, $10,000 for a three-quarter-length portrait, and $3,000 for a sketch. Later in his career, LÃ¡szlÃ³ would occasionally request Â£3,000 for a portrait if he didn't want to paint that person's portrait, although once or twice they still sat for the portrait and paid the Â£3,000 fee.
5. "I am dead tired of painting portraits," LÃ¡szlÃ³ remarked near the end of his career. He turned his attention to other types of paintings, and desired to create a masterpiece that would "symbolize the suffering endured by millions of women during the war."
Fans should check out The de LÃ¡szlÃ³ Archive Trust; the collections of LÃ¡szlÃ³'s paintings in Wikimedia, the Royal Collection, the ARC, and the National Portrait Gallery; three portraits of LÃ¡szlÃ³ and this photo of LÃ¡szlÃ³ and his family; Richard Ormond's article, "De LÃ¡szlÃ³ and Sargent;" and this guide to LÃ¡szlÃ³'s portrait painting method.