Oswald Hornby Joseph Birley
31 March 1880
|Died||6 May 1952 (aged 72)|
St John's Wood, London, England
|Alma mater||Trinity College|
|Known for||Royal portraitist|
Early life and family
Birley was born in New Zealand to Hugh Francis Birley (1855–1916) while his parents were on a world tour. He was born into an old Lancashire family. Upon returning to England, he was educated at Harrow School, London and Trinity College, Cambridge.
He served in France in World War I, first with the Royal Fusiliers, later transferring to the Intelligence Corps, obtaining the rank of captain and being awarded the Military Cross in 1919. During World War II he served with the rank of major in the Home Guard.
He painted several highly regarded portraits of his friend Sir Winston Churchill (to whom he also gave lessons), and also a life-size portrait of Mahatma Gandhi which was the first to be hung in the Lok Sabha shortly after Indian Independence on 28 August 1947.
Other subjects were many war-time leaders such as Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery, as well as Admiral Mountbatten and Air Marshal Trenchard. He also painted the wealthy American financiers Andrew Mellon and J. P. Morgan, the psychiatrist Sir James Crichton-Browne, and Welsh architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. Birley painted the portrait of Leeds Lord Mayor Sir Charles Lupton (1855–1935).
He was knighted in 1949.
In 1921, the 41-year-old Birley married the 21-year-old "Irish beauty" Rhoda Vava Mary Lecky Pike (1900–1981). They bought and refurbished Charleston Manor in East Sussex. Rhoda later founded the Charleston Manor Festival there. The couple had two children:
- Maxime Birley (1922–2009), a model and actress who married Count Alain Le Bailly de La Falaise (1905–1977) They divorced in 1950, following a series of her infidelities, including an affair with British ambassador Duff Cooper (1890–1954). She later married John McKendry, the curator of prints and photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Mark Birley (1930–2007), an entrepreneur and founder of Annabel's in London, who married Lady Annabel Vane-Tempest-Stewart (born 1934). They divorced in 1975 after her affair with Birley's friend Sir James Goldsmith (1933–1997).
Birley died at his home in London on 6 May 1952, a week after returning from six-week trip to the United States where he received medical assistance.
Birley's descendants include Robin Birley (born 1958), who married Lucy Ferry (1960–2018), and India Jane Birley (born 1961). Other descendants include the fashion designer and muse Loulou de la Falaise (1948–2011), who was married to Desmond FitzGerald, 29th Knight of Glin (1937–2011), and later to Thadée Klossowski de Rola, a French writer who is the younger son of the painter Balthus (1908–2001). Loulou de la Falaise's niece is the fashion model Lucie de la Falaise (born 1973).
- "Birley, Oswald Hornby Joseph (BRLY898OH)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- "Entry on Birley family genealogy". Archived from the original on 13 March 2016.
- "SIR OSWALD BIRLEY, NOTED PORTRAITIST: Artist Who Painted Members of British Royalty and LeadingI World Figures Dies at 72". The New York Times. 7 May 1952. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
- "MAHATMA GANDHI (1869–1948)". Portraits : Central Hall. Lok Sabha. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
- John Steegman, (1957), A Survey of Portraits in Welsh Houses, page 240 (The National Museum of Wales)
- Reed, Michael (5 April 2013). "Duchess of Cambridge not posh? Her ancestor was lord mayor of Leeds". The Guardian. London. ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
- Black, Jonathan (2007). The Life and Works of Sir Oswald Birley MC (PDF). Philip Mould & Company.
- Black, Jonathan; et al. (2007). Power & Beauty: The Art of Sir Oswald Birley (PDF). Philip Mould & Company. pp. 76–77.
- Fox, Margalit (1 May 2009). "Maxime de la Falaise, model, Designer and Muse, Is Dead at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
- "Rhoda (née Lecky Pike), Lady Birley". npg.org.uk. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
- Burke's Landed Gentry. 1952. p. 186. Archived from the original on 23 February 2005.
- Horwell, Veronica (8 May 2009). "Maxime de la Falaise". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
- Orth, Maureen (1 February 2008). "Hurly Birley". Vanity Fair. p. 152. ISSN 0733-8899. Retrieved 25 June 2008.
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