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 Philip Alexius De Laszlo  (1869 - 1937)

About: Philip Alexius De Laszlo


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Lived/Active: United Kingdom/Hungary      Known for: portrait, figure painting (notable portrait)

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Ad Code: 2
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from Auction House Records.
Mrs Paul Bridgeman and Miss Jeannine Bridgeman
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Bonhams Bond Street:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

De László painted both the sitter and her husband, John W. Davis in 1920, while the latter was U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St James's (1918-1921). The artist 'not wholly satisfied with the blandness of the official portrait of the Ambassador,' made a second portrait of him two years later (Harbaugh, op.cit). It was Mrs. Davis who persuaded her husband to sit for the artist and he was so struck by her beauty that he insisted on painting her as well. Ellen 'Nell' Graham Bassel was born 26 January 1869 in Clarksburg, West Virginia, the daughter of John Bassel (1840-1914), a well-known lawyer in Clarksburg, and his wife Martha Lewis (1841-1912). As a young woman, Ellen and her five sisters aspired 'to lead the fast set' in Clarksburg (Tucker, op.cit, p.117). The sitter married firstly Charles Walter List, 7 November 1894, however, she divorced him as a result of his addictions and adulterous behavior. John W. Davis (1873-1955) and the sitter had known each other growing-up in Clarksburg. From 1907, as their relationship developed, there were strong objections from his family owing to her status as a divorcée. These were eventually overcome and they married 2 January 1912, at the rectory of the Episcopal Church in Clarksburg. Davis was serving at this time in the House of Representatives for West Virginia and was appointed the following year as Solicitor General of the United States. The couple made their home in Washington, D.C., where the sitter 'made sure that [her husband] wore the right clothes, met the right people, and kept his appointments. She freed him from the responsibilities of daily life so that he could do what he did best, practice law and diplomacy' (William D. Theriault, Julia Davis: A Literary Biography, 1992).President Woodrow Wilson appointed John W. Davis as the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James's in September 1918. The Times in London described the couple as 'among the best liked personages' in official life in Washington (The Times (London), 20 September 1918). In London the sitter was of great assistance to him, and was described as 'the handsomest woman who had presided at the American embassy in 50 years' ('Mrs John W. Davis', The New York Sun, 14 July 1943). On their return to the United States in 1921 Davis again took up private law practice and established himself in New York City as one of the nation's leading corporate lawyers. The sitter continued to be a great support to her husband in his career, which included his loss as the Democratic candidate in the presidential election of 1924 to Republican incumbent Calvin Coolidge. Julia Davis, his daughter from his first marriage, reflected that Ellen, 'made him an excellent wife. He never would have gone as far afterwards as he did because his attitude toward a new job was always that he was afraid he couldn't handle it...He got over it, but she brought him out' (Theriault, op.cit.)Ellen Davis and her husband maintained a town house in New York at 2 East 88th St. and a country home, Mattapan, in Lattingtown, Locust Valley, on the North Shore of Long Island, New York. At Mattapan the sitter enjoyed cultivating prize-winning flowers and she was a member of the Colony Club in New York, as well as being active on behalf of a number of philanthropic causes.Ellen Davis died 13 July 1943 at the age of 74, after a long illness. Her last days were spent at the home of a friend in Locust Valley, having been displaced from Mattapan by a fire shortly before. Her husband survived her until 1955.We are grateful to Katherine Field and Matt Davies for compiling the catalogue entry for this portrait, which will be included in the Philip de László catalogue raisonné, currently presented in progress online at delaszlocatalogueraisonne.comThe Hon. Mrs de Laszlo and a team of editors are compiling the catalogue raisonné of the artist's entire oeuvre. Katherine Field is the British and Canadian Editor and Matt Davies is the American Editor.

Biography from Christie's London, King Street:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

In his lifetime, Hungarian-born Philip de László was recognized as one of the most important portrait painters of his generation.  His oeuvre is undergoing a reassessment, and he is being appreciated again as one of the last proponents of the grand manner tradition.  A display has recently been dedicated to him at the National Portrait Gallery in London, and some of his portraits have featured in exhibitions at Tate Britain (Van Dyck, 2009), and the Royal Academy of Arts ( Treasures from Budapest, 2010).

De László kept a studio in Paris at 31 rue Jean Goujon, but he also regularly painted in the duc de Guiche's hótel particulier at 42 bis Avenue Henri Martin. Armand de Guiche (later 12th Duc de Gramont), was one of his closest friends, and an artist himself.  It is likely that de László used his studio in the winter of 1921, as Lucy recorded that Guiche organized a private exhibition of her husband's new portraits at his home on Monday 19th December.  She described the event as a 'thundering success',5 to which 130 people came.  De László, wishing to show Mercedes's portrait to a wider public, wrote to her father in May 1924, asking if he could have it on display at a small exhibition to be held at the Franz von Riel Salon in London.  It would have been particularly appropriate, as the show was instigated by a cousin of Mercedes, as explained in The Studio:6 'On the initiative of the art-loving wife of H.E. the President of the Republic, Doña Regina Pacini de Alvear,7 there has been opened, for charitable purposes, an exhibition of portraiture by contemporary masters which has many interesting features. Argentine families do not, as a rule, lend their pictures for public show, but the social success of the innovation has only been equaled by the artistic curiosity to see how men like László, Shannon, Dagnan-Bouveret, and Renoir, interpreted the Argentine grande dame. There were half-a-dozen László's on the walls...'  However, Carlos Maria de Alvear replied that he could not lend the portrait of his daughter and expressed his surprise that de László had not requested it before for an earlier exhibition at Knoedler's in Paris 1922.  He wrote: '...its absence, I assure you, astonished many people who considered this portrait, as you have yourself just admitted it in your letter, as one of your most beautiful masterpieces', suggesting that he took offense to that omission.

De László also painted a full-length of Senorita Mercedes Santamarina, and a three-quarter length portrait of Mara Gastaga de Santamarina.

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