Home CULTURE WW1: Philip de László painting of two Indian soldiers at risk of leaving UK

WW1: Philip de László painting of two Indian soldiers at risk of leaving UK

A painting by Philip de László of two Indian soldiers who served in the First World War is at risk of leaving the UK unless a domestic buyer can be found.

by EUToday Correspondents
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The unfinished portrait, valued at £650,000, depicts the cavalry officers Risaldar Jagat Singh and Risaldar Man Singh. The pair were junior troop commanders in the British Indian Army’s Expeditionary Force who served at the Battle of the Somme and are presumed to have died in action.

The soldiers sat for the artist in London two months before being sent to France to fight in the trenches. The painting is extremely rare in depicting active Indian participants in the First World War.

The painting is a fine example of a portrait by one of the most renowned artists of the twentieth century and captures an important moment in British history as soldiers from across the Empire came to fight in Europe.

The painting appears to have been created for de László’s own collection and it remained in his studio until he died in 1937.

“ This wonderful and sensitive portrait captures an important moment in our history as soldiers were drawn from across the globe to help fight in the trenches of the First World War. I hope this magnificent painting can remain in the UK to help tell the story of those brave soldiers and the contribution they and so many others made to Allied victory.” – Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson.

The Minister’s decision follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest.

Committee Member Peter Barber said: “ Philip de László was one of Britain’s most distinguished society portrait painters of the early twentieth century. But this sensitive portrait, all the more powerful because it is unfinished, offers an exceptionally rare glimpse not of maharajahs or generals but of two ‘ordinary’ middle-ranking Sikh soldiers about to depart for the horrors of the Battle of the Somme. The enormous contribution made by them and millions of other Indians to Britain’s war effort between 1914 and 1918 has until recently been largely overlooked and the life stories of de László’s sitters remain to be uncovered. Yet numerous descendants of Indian soldiers now live in Britain, rendering the portrait ‘British’ at several, increasingly significant, levels.

“ The portrait also raises more general questions of personal and externally perceived ‘British’ identity. That the painting, apparently undertaken voluntarily and without payment, had special meaning for the artist is suggested by the fact that it remained in his studio until he died. De László could well have seen parallels between the position of these outsiders loyally serving their imperial master and his own as a humbly-born Hungarian Jew who had reinvented himself as a patriotic member of British high society. Like the Indians serving in the British forces, he too faced discrimination in face of growing public xenophobia. Within months of creating this portrait he was to be interned for over a year as a suspected foreign agent and to suffer a nervous breakdown after having been, sadistically, refused permission to paint.

“ This perceptive and deeply personal painting, exceptional in de Lazlo’s oeuvre, speaks at several levels to the British experience, both positive and less positive, and should remain in this country to be viewed, studied – and enjoyed.”

The committee made its recommendation on the basis of the third Waverley criterion for its outstanding significance to the study of the Indian contribution to war effort and the individuals involved.

The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred for a period ending on 13 July 2023.

At the end of the first deferral period owners will have a consideration period of 15 Business Days to consider any offer(s) to purchase the painting at the recommended price of £650,000 (plus VAT of £130,000 which can be reclaimed by an eligible institution).The second deferral period will commence following the signing of an Option Agreement and will last for three months.

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