Helen Hughes became friends with the artist’s son John during her visit to England in 1931 and there is film footage in the de Laszlo Archive of her and her parents in the garden at 3 Fitzjohn’s Avenue with the artist and his wife Lucy. This portrait was painted at the artist’s studio there in October 1931 and was kept by the artist for his youngest son, who inherited it on his father’s death in November 1937.
Helen Beatrice Myfanwy Hughes was born 11 August 1915 in New South Wales, Australia, the only child of The Rt Honourable William Hughes and his wife Mary Ethel Campbell. She had six half-siblings from her father’s earlier common-law wife, however there was no contact between them. William Hughes became Prime Minister of Australia the year she was born and they made their first voyage to London, via New York, when she was just six months old.
Helen was very popular in Australia and grew up in the public eye. The press regularly reported what events she was attending and what she wore. She partnered the Duke of Gloucester during his official visit to Australia at the State Ball given at Parliament House, Canberra, 1934.
She returned to England in February 1937 to attend the coronation of George VI  and was presented at the Court of St James’s in May. She was described in the Times as wearing, “a picture gown of ivory satin. A train of ivory satin, with sunray pleating. A bouquet of gardenias.” The sitter tragically died in childbirth on 9 August in a London nursing home. Her son survived but as he was born out of wedlock Helen’s cause of death was not publicised and was reported as being from complications from surgery. William Hughes refused to acknowledge the child. Her body was returned to Sydney for burial and hundreds of mourners lined the streets around St Thomas’s Church, Sydney during the funeral. The service took place on 24 September and was presided over by Bishop Wilton and attended by representatives of the Governor-General, the Federal and State Government.
The verso of the frame has the remains of a Charpentier Gallery label where de László had a one-man exhibition in 1931. This portrait was not included so it is thought that he used the frame from one of the exhibited pictures of a similar size, these were: Christopher Columbus´s House and Courtyard in Cordoba , Salon in the Royal Palace of Turin  and The Tomato Seller at Luxor .
We are grateful to Katherine Field for writing the catalogue entry for this portrait, which will be included in the Philip de László catalogue raisonné, currently presented in progress online: www.delaszlocatalogueraisonne.com.