Philip Alexius de Làszlò (1869-1937).
Portrait of Archduchess Marie-Josèphe of Saxony.
Oil on canvas.
Signed, located and dated: « A.Laszlo Wien 1906 ».
Dimensions: H. 130 - W. 100 cm
Private collection, Tours, France.
Philip Alexius de Laszlo's portraits inhabit palaces and history books. From a modest background, this Hungarian established himself as the portraitist of the European monarchs and aristocracy of the late 19th century. A hard worker, he painted nearly 2,700 portraits in the course of his long career, making him a privileged witness to an era and a declining lifestyle.
He was the son of a tailor, was born in Budapest in 1869, his real name was Fülop Laub and nothing destined him for painting. It was when he saw Mihaly Munkacsy's (1843-1900) Christ in front of Pilate (Déri Museum, Debrecen) in 1881 that he decided to become a painter. During his apprenticeship, he took up theatre decorating, architectural sculpture, porcelain painting, sign painting and finally photo retouching. His exceptional abilities stirred up envy and he often changed masters. At the age of fifteen, he was noticed for his portrait of a member of the Hungarian Parliament, based on a photograph.
In 1888, he presented a painting at the Christmas exhibition of the Budapest Academy of Art, which was well received since it entered the collections of Emperor Franz Joseph. Therefore, the young artist obtained a scholarship to study at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice. His stay in Italy was short-lived due to fever, but he attended the Munich Art Academy for a few months before leaving for Paris to study under Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1834-1912) and Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902) at the Académie Julian.
By the 1890s, his reputation as a portraitist was established in Germany, Hungary and Austria; he obtained his first official commission for the Bulgarian court at the age of 24 and painted two portraits of the Bulgarian prince and princess, and then that of Archimandrite Gregorius of Philippopolis in Sofia. In 1891, he chose to change his name to László.
He worked in Munich, Vienna and Budapest, which increased his international reputation and he exhibited at the 1898 Salon in Paris. He then won a medal for his portrait of Pope Leo XIII at the 1900 Paris World Exhibition.
The artist married Irishwoman Lucy Madeline Guiness in 1900 and turned his attention to Ireland and England before moving to London in 1907 where he quickly became the favourite artist of the aristocracy and the royal family.
In Great Britain, he painted portraits of the royal family on several occasions and in 1911 attended the coronation of George V of England. He painted all the great personalities of the time: Kaiser Wilhelm II, the King and Queen of Spain, the most famous women of British and French society, including Anna de Noailles and Countess Greffulhe.
His work was so renowned that he was invited to the United States in 1908 to paint the portrait of Theodore Roosevelt, that in 1912 he was knighted by the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph and that in 1913 King Edward VII awarded him the Royal Victorian Order and granted him British nationality.
Suspected of intelligence with the enemy because of his ennoblement by the Hungarian sovereign and the official portraits he made at the latter's court, he was imprisoned for a year in 1917, then rehabilitated in 1919. This last period of his career was marked by honours: after several major exhibitions in London, he was appointed President of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1927.
Finally, despite the scarcity of private commissions due to the aftermath of the war, he remained, until his death in London in 1937, one of the most popular post-war portraitists in Europe and the United States.
Paradoxically, it was his exceptional talent, his ability to render the personality of his models on canvas, that may have contributed to Laszlo's relative oblivion in Europe. Indeed, as their owners did not wish to part with them, or found their image unflattering for official representations, few of Laszlo's works were quickly integrated into museums.
The portrait of Maria-Josepha of Saxony (1867-1944)
Maria-Josepha of Saxony was born in Dresden in 1867, she was the daughter of King George I of Saxony and Marie-Anne of Portugal. Her husband, who was debauched and had little respect for the customs of his status, died prematurely in 1906 as a result of his dissolute life.
The painting of Làszlò was painted in that year, while he was living in Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Maria-Josepha of Saxony was in her forties. The signature is in keeping with the Vienna period (1903 to 1907), which the artist changed on his arrival in England in 1907.
The light dress, the roses and the fact that the princess is depicted outdoors place the painting between May and August, whereas her husband died in November. Following her death, this painting was probably put away because it was unseemly not to depict her in mourning, which explains why it is unknown today.
Following the assassination of her brother-in-law, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in 1914, and the break-up of the Empire after the war, the Archduchess moved to Switzerland and then to Germany, where she died in 1944 before being buried in the Capuchin crypt, the Habsburg necropolis in Vienna.