Philip de László is now recognised as one of the most significant portrait painters of the late 19th and early 20th Century. His great skill in capturing a sitter's likeness and his ability to transpose glamour and vitality onto a canvas often equalled that of Sargent.
The artist's correspondence reveals that de László was introduced to Mrs Chaplin by her sister-in-law Edith Castlereagh, née Chaplin, who took her to the artist's studio in November 1914. Viscountess Castlereagh - who became the 7th Marchioness of Londonderry in 1915 when her husband Charles Stewart Henry Vane-Tempest-Stewart succeeded his father - was already an important patron of de László. The artist had made a striking three-quarter length portrait of her in 1913, and by 1915 he had also painted her husband, her son, and her mother-in-law. The Londonderry family would commission many more portraits over the next twelve years, a reflection of their prominence in London society. Edith was a renowned hostess and her balls were justly famous, and in retrospect are emblematic of a lifestyle which was to vanish with the First World War.
It therefore seemed natural that Edith Castlereagh should introduce her brother's wife to de László. In a letter to the artist dated 25 November 1914, she informed him that Eric Chaplin, who was then fighting in the war in the Queen's Own Staffordshire Yeomanry, was keen to commission a portrait of Gwladys:
'My brother is most anxious for you to paint her, and I should like to talk to you when I see you. She really is a lovely creature, and I do hope it will be possible for her to be included in your exhibition, you must refuse all the rich ugly ones!!! And the year after you can have "a chamber of horrors"!'
The resulting picture, for which sittings took place in June 1915, was in fact not exhibited by de László until 1924, but it was then given a place of honour at one of his most prestigious one-man exhibitions, at the French Gallery in Pall Mall, as the opening portrait in the show. De László tended to choose the dresses and jewels his models should wear for the sittings, as he usually had very definite ideas as to what was required, often draping his own fabric on the sitters, or using his own props in order to produce the desired effect. In this instance he lent Gwladys Chaplin a long row of pearls, which, according to one of her descendants, she greatly disliked. However, the artist did not relent, and his sitter was eventually delighted with her portrait, though a compromise is attained by her holding rather than wearing the offending necklace.
The Hon. Gwladys Alice Gertrude Wilson was born in 1881, the fourth daughter of Charles Henry Wilson, 1st Baron Nunburnholme, and his wife Florence Jane Helen Wellesley. On 3rd August 1905 at Warter Priory in York, she married Eric Chaplin (1877-1947), the only son of Henry, 1st Viscount Chaplin and Lady Florence Leveson-Gower. Her father-in-law, an eminent M.P. and close friend of the Prince of Wales, had been embroiled in a scandal when his first betrothed, Lady Florence Paget, eloped with the 4th Marquis of Hastings shortly before their wedding. Revenge was implemented to some degree when Chaplin's horse Hermit won the 1867 Derby against the odds, fighting injury, to the financial detriment of the Marquis. Henry Chaplin's subsequent marriage to Eric's mother was happy but cut tragically short when she died giving birth to a second son.
Eric succeeded his father as 2nd Viscount in 1923, and the couple made their home at 23 Chelsea Square, SW3. They were happily married, and had two sons: Anthony (b.1906), a recognised zoologist and musician who succeeded his father in 1949 as 3rd Viscount Chaplin, and the Hon. Niall Greville Chaplin (b.1908). Gwladys Chaplin died in 1971, aged 90. De László's portrait pays tribute to her beauty and vivacity.
We are grateful to Dr Caroline Corbeau, and to Gwladys' family for their help in preparing this catalogue entry.
The Hon. Mrs de László and Christopher Wentworth-Stanley are compiling the catalogue raisonnée of the artist's work. Dr. Caroline Corbeau is the British and French editor. Please see www.delaszloarchivetrust.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.