Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Philip Alexius de Laszlo - Portrait of Lady Illingworth, seated full-length, in a blue ball gown with pink ribbon

Price Realized £49,250

signed and dated 'de Laszlo/1934 V' (lower right)
oil on canvas
65½ x 43 in. (166.5 x 109 cm.)

Hungarian-born Philip de László was one of the most famous portrait painters of his era, both in Europe and in the United States. He was one of the last exponents of the grand manner in portraiture, and recorded for posterity the greatest personalities of his time, be they artists, writers, famous beauties, politicians, dictators, or kings. The freshness of de László's style and his ability to work at prodigious speed, using the sight-size technique,1 played an important part in his success.

In 1917, he painted an attractive seated full-length portrait of Mrs Percy Illingworth, the sister-in-law of Lady Illingworth, and it is likely that the latter had that work in mind when de László was commissioned to paint her. The composition, palette, and general conception of the present picture are also strongly reminiscent of the portrait of Lady Broughton, executed in 1922. The artist, who had a passion for luxurious fabrics and strict views on what his sitters should wear, rendered the tulle overlay of Lady Illingworth's silk satin dress by skimming the canvas with a light sweep of paint under a loose web of fluid, decisive brushstrokes to indicate the folds of the fabric.

The present portrait was certainly completed at the very beginning of May 1934, as it was proudly displayed at a party organised by Lord and Lady Illingworth on 12 May. As the artist and his wife were unable to attend, Lady Illingworth wrote to de László the following day: "The portrait came in for a lot of admiration, there were many friends and admirers of yours here."2 De László also made a head and shoulders study-portrait of Lady Illingworth around the same period.
De László's vast oeuvre includes relatively few full-length portraits: he tended to favour three-quarter-length formats when commissioned to paint large portraits. The increasingly high fees he commanded, combined with the impact the First World War had on British wealth, meant that most of his full-length portraits were executed in the 1910s. In the 1920s, most of his clientele for such works were American or South American, and he only painted about a dozen full-lengths in the 1930s, which makes a rarity of the present work. In 1934, the year it was executed, de László's normal fee for a full-length portrait was 1400 guineas (the equivalent of £78,000 in today's values) as opposed to 600 guineas for a half-length portrait.

Margaret Mary Clare was born on 23 November 1900, the only daughter of William Basil Wilberforce, of Markington Hall, Ripon, Yorkshire, and his wife Mary Holden, daughter of Sir Isaac Holden, 1st Baronet. On 18 November 1931 she married Albert Holden Illingworth, as his second wife.3 Like the Wilberforces, the Illingworths were of Yorkshire stock. Historically they made their wealth as wool combers, but Albert became a Member of Parliament. He was sworn of the Privy Council in 1916 and served as Postmaster General in Lloyd George's government until 1921, when he was raised to the peerage as 1st Baron Illingworth of Denton. There were no children of the marriage and the barony became extinct upon Albert Illingworth's death, on 23 January 1942.

Lady Illingworth was proud of her great-great-grandfather, the abolitionist Samuel Wilberforce. In 1933, she opened the Wilberforce Centenary exhibition in Hull and took an active interest in banning slavery in countries where it persisted. An elegant lady and society hostess, she lived in an opulent Georgian house at 44 Grosvenor Square. Once the town residence of the Earls of Harrowby, it was there, in June 1815, that the guests of the 1st Earl received Wellington's victory dispatch from Waterloo. Every year, Lady Illingworth organised a summer ball to commemorate this event. When she lost her husband in 1942 he left the house to her, on the condition that she did not enter a convent (being a devout Roman Catholic). During the Second World War, she served as Commandant of the Voluntary Aid Detachment and was an associate of the Royal Red Cross. In 1967, her house was developed to make way for the Britannia Hotel, now the Millennium Hotel. Her wealth was immense: when she departed, it was reported that forty-seven vans of valuables were taken away by a storage firm. She moved to Claridge's, where she continued to entertain lavishly.

1 With the sitter and canvas placed side by side, the artist would walk energetically to and away from the portrait, applying paint and retreating to judge the progress from a distance.
2 CLA024-0202, op. cit.
3 Albert Illingworth married firstly Annie Elizabeth Crothers in 1895. They were divorced in 1926.

We are grateful to Caroline Corbeau-Parsons for writing a catalogue entry for this portrait, which is included in the Philip de László catalogue raisonné online (www.delaszlocatalogueraisonne.com).

The Hon. Mrs de Laszlo and a team of editors are compiling the catalogue raisonné of the artist's work. Caroline Corbeau-Parsons is the British and French Editor. Please see www.delaszloarchivetrust.com or contact catalogue@delaszlo.com for more information.



Hannah said...

This is stunning...love the texture of the gown.

Hermes said...

Well said, this is really beautiful I think.