Portraits in the online catalogue may be viewed in alphabetical or chronological order or by using the search facility.
The catalogue contains completed entries and holding entries for pictures that have not yet been fully researched but are related to a published picture. Related paintings appear at the bottom of each entry. Entries provide a full technical description of the picture including dimensions, medium and background information where known.
Completed entries situate the painting in de László’s life and include exhibition history and bibliography. Each description provides a biography of the sitter with cross-references to related portraits. Where there is little published information the team has consulted material provided by sitters and their descendants where available. Since the catalogue is a work in progress further contributions will be sincerely appreciated.
At present catalogue numbers are automatically assigned by the database and have no bearing on the painting’s creation. Upon completion of the catalogue works will be numbered chronologically.
Working on the catalogue the team has identified the following categories.
This category encompasses paintings and drawings completed as part of de László’s training before he became a professional artist. Earliest works date from about 1882 when he was copying from architectural books as a young teenager. Student works from Budapest, Paris and Munich ending in 1893 are also included.
De László came from humble beginnings and undertook paid work from an early age to help support his mother and family. Surviving pen and ink drawings include magazine illustrations, restaurant menus and advertisements promoting newspapers like Pesti Hírlap. His last and most famous commercial work was a poster for Wiener Musikfestwoche (Viennese Music Week) in 1912 .
The artist’s will stated his executors should destroy works remaining in his studio considered unworthy of his reputation. Three hundred and twenty eight pictures were burnt at the Fulham Council incinerator on 17th November 1947. They can be identified from the studio inventory compiled by de László’s solicitors, Gregory Rowcliffe & Co., comprising 800 oil paintings, preparatory works, 27 portrait drawings, 428 loose drawings and 46 sketchbooks. Most of the works in oil were photographed. Works destroyed during the First and Second World Wars or by accident are also included in this category.
Genre subjects were the prevailing fashion in Hungarian and German painting when de László was a student and his earliest exhibited works were in this style. The Storyteller (1891)  and Hofbräuhaus (1892)  were his most successful pictures before his career as a portraitist was assured following his commission to paint the Bulgarian Royal Family in 1894.
History painting was considered the highest form of painting and the style for which de László’s great mentors, Mihály Munkácsy, Gyula Benczúr and Sándor Liezen-Mayer, were renowned. To date only one history painting by de László has been identified, Felicián Zách and his daughter Klára , for which he made many preparatory studies. The artist had hoped to complete another, a tribute to the efforts of women to the First World War. This was never achieved, however, many preparatory works survive and are identified as War Picture, the name de László used when referring to the proposed composition.
Throughout his career de László painted landscapes for his own pleasure. Typically painted on small panels or canvas boards, though occasionally on larger canvases, they almost invariably remained in his possession until his death. His landscapes usually depicted gardens or the vicinity of houses where he was painting a commission or a view or architecture that caught his eye while on holiday or travelling. They are usually inscribed with the date, location and often include detailed notes by the artist on the verso.
De László preferred to paint from life and rarely agreed to work from photographs. He occasionally relented, particularly in the case of an officer killed during the First World War. He would usually leave these works unsigned or note in the inscription that they were painted from a photograph. These pictures tend to be very stiff and lacking in the sense movement and character exemplified by his other portraits.
These works refer to drawings and oil studies de László made to determine the structure, colour and composition of his finished works. He was well known for beginning his portraits painting directly on the canvas. For important or more complex compositions, however, he would make several preparatory drawings and an oil study to decide the colour scheme. The latter would occasionally be shown to the sitter for approval. Over twelve hundred preparatory works remained in his studio on his death.
De László painted at such speed that it was his practice to put aside an unsatisfactory portrait and start again rather than attempt to improve the first version. In most cases the artist kept the rejected picture. In the case of works on artist board he would occasionally paint another picture on the verso. After his death de László’s executors offered many of these portraits to the sitters or their families.
De László was capable of creating a brilliant likeness of a sitter in about two hours painting directly on the canvas or board without preparatory drawings. These portraits were usually head and shoulders with the face finely finished and the shoulders and clothing just indicated. These study portraits were distinctive in his oeuvre and became popular commissions as prices for his formal portraits rose steadily through the 1920s and 1930s. Frequently painted without the sitter’s knowledge while de László was working on a more formal portrait they were often presented as a souvenir of the time they had spent together. The demand for study portraits grew during the First World War as officers had only brief time available while home on leave or before departing for the front. 63 examples have been recorded to date.
Some 4,000 works by de László have thus far been recorded and 437 remain untraced. Some have been seen since work on the catalogue started thirty years ago but have changed hands and are now in unknown private collections. Evidence for the existence of de László’s pictures is provided by the photographs of Paul Laib and other contemporary fine art photographers and from correspondence, photographs and news clippings in the artist’s archive. The “Missing Paintings” page on the website allows helpful owners to contact us to identify their ancestors’ portraits.
Sitters in the catalogue entries are given the names and titles they held when they were painted. Their full title at the time of death is also used for the Catalogue, Missing Paintings and Works in Public Collection pages of the website to facilitate the search function; e.g., Apponyi, Countess Rudolf, née Baroness Franziska von Holtz; other married name Baroness Carl von Born.
Foreign titles have been translated where possible but have been left in their original form where no English equivalent exists (e.g., the German Fürst). French titles remain in their own language and are correctly lower case. The international “Madame” has been used for Greek, Dutch and Italian sitters, as well as for French sitters where Mrs and other titles are inappropriate.
Hungarian given names are published before the surname rather than vice versa as is Hungarian custom.
The archaic spelling Roumania has been changed to the more modern Romania used today by the Romanian Royal family.
Inscriptions are in oil paint and in the artist’s hand unless otherwise stated. It is very rare that de László did not sign and date his work and important to note that his signature evolved over the course of his long career. Where possible it has been noted if a picture has been cut down or framing has obscured the inscription.
Until 1891 when he and his brother changed their name to László, he generally signed Laub or Laub Fülöp. After his ennoblement by Franz Joseph in 1912, he signed a few portraits László de Lombos but soon decided upon the more international form de László (with variations). In some instances he signed his pictures weeks, months or years later and occasionally made a mistake with the date of creation. He primarily used Roman numerals for the month and often stated the place where the portrait was painted.
Where possible it will be noted if a picture has been overpainted or cut-down.
Measurements have been taken from the verso where practicable. In many cases pictures could not be removed from the wall and measurements were taken from the front, sight-size within the frame. All measurements are recorded height before width in centimetres and inches.
JULEY: Peter Juley’s negatives are held by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
LAIB (1869-1958): Paul Laib’s photographs are referenced by their Witt Library archive numbers where the original plate glass negatives are held.
NPG ALBUMS: The National Portrait Gallery Albums are de László’s unique, photographic record of his work which was deposited with the Heinz Archive & Library at the gallery in London after his death. The collection is incomplete but arranged chronologically. It comprises 19 clothbound albums with the names of the sitters written beneath each photograph. The inscriptions are usually in the hand of the artist and occasionally identify a sitter incorrectly. While it is likely the photographs were taken by Paul Laib, de László’s usual studio photographer, it is not possible to see whether his studio stamp is on the verso of the pictures. No printed text appears in the volumes. Two of the nineteen volumes were separated from the rest at the outset but were later sold to the NPG.
SITTERS’ BOOKS: The artist’s two sitters’ books were left to the British Museum on de László's death in 1937 and are now in the possession of the British Library (Department of Manuscripts: MSS 45095 and 45096).
The books document the remarkable career of the artist from the first signature in volume one, Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary in 1899, to the Duke of Connaught as the final signature in the second volume. The signatures include a wide range of significant international figures, including four American presidents (Theodore Roosevelt, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover), five generations of the British royal family (from the 2nd Duke of Cambridge in 1901 to Princess Elizabeth of York, now Queen Elizabeth II, in 1933), as well as European royalty, nobility and distinguished people from across the world. Signatures and comments appear in English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Spanish, Romanian, Hindi, Russian, Arabic and Japanese.
The artist also collected autographs of individuals who were not sitting for portraits but simply visiting his studio or watching another's sitting. This can be misleading when determining who sat for a portrait. For example, in June 1914 the Queen Mothers of Great Britain and Greece and the Dowager Empress of Russia visited de László’s studio to view the portraits of the Greek royal family. The signatures of Queen Mary of Great Britain and the Queen of Portugal appear on the same page which is known as the “Five Queens Page.”
Every effort has been made to trace the ownership history of each work through research, auction catalogues, dealers’ records, exhibition catalogues, published accounts and family information. Gaps and uncertainties remain in the provenance of some works. Entries will be updated as new information becomes available. Provenance information is withheld in some cases in accordance with the owner’s wishes.
DE LÁSZLÓ’S ARCHIVE comprising some 20,000 letters, press cuttings and other personal documents provides much of the source material for the picture descriptions. In 2005, 120 boxes of letters were given by the artist’s descendants to the Heinz Archive and Library at the National Portrait Gallery. By 2010 these had been scanned and indexed by the catalogue raisonné team. Additional and newly discovered archive material continues to be scanned and indexed at the catalogue raisonné office.
DIARIES: both de László and his wife Lucy kept personal and appointment diaries over many years. They provide crucial information about the pictures, where and when they were painted and how much they cost. Both wrote in an idiosyncratic way using multiple languages, phonetic spelling and many abbreviations. These have been maintained in the picture entries. Most of the surviving diaries have now been transcribed.
To see the Selected Bibliography click here
Frames were integral to de László’s designs and his correspondence to clients often includes the phrase: “I always prefer to paint in the frame, and if possible choose a genuine old one.” Photographs and film of him at work show that this was indeed his practice. Wherever possible an image of the picture in its frame is included and reference made to the supplier. These were almost exclusively Emile Remy whose label appears on quite a number of his paintings and F.C. Buck of Baker Street.
CATALOGUE ENTRY DATES
Catalogue entries are dated with the year they were written. New material will be incorporated as it becomes available with a new date added to denote this.
The catalogue is being compiled by the following team of editors whose entries are initialled to identify the author:
SdeL Sandra de Laszlo, Director and Executive Editor
KF Katherine Field, Senior Editor
CC Dr Caroline Corbeau-Parsons, Former British and French Editor
MD Matt Davies, American Editor
SMdeL Susan de Laszlo, Spanish & South American Editor
Pd’O Dr Paul d’Orbán, Contributing Editor, Hungarian Paintings
ATG Alexandra Titze-Grabec, European Editor
BS Beáta Somfalvi, Hungarian Editor
CWS Christopher Wentworth-Stanley, European Consultant
SdeL & KF 2016