Oswald Birley

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Sir Oswald Hornby Joseph Birley MC RA (31 March 1880 – 6 May 1952) was an English portrait painter and royal portraitist in the early part of the 20th century.


Birley was born in New Zealand 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.[1]

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.

A favourite of the Royal Family, he was well known for his portraits of King George V, Queen Mary, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and the present monarch Queen Elizabeth II.

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.[2][3]

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.[4]

He was knighted in 1949.

In April 2013, it was reported that Sir Oswald had painted the portrait of Leeds Lord Mayor Sir Charles Lupton (1855–1935) who was the great great greatuncle of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.[5]

List of works[edit]

Professor Smith, 1911, oil on canvas. Collection of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.[6]

In 1932 Sir Oswald Birley was commissioned to paint the portrait of Rupert Arthur Llewellyn, then legal advisor to Stoke-on-Trent City Council. The portrait remains in the family collection.

Birley family[edit]

He was the great-grandson of Hugh Hornby Birley, who led the troops at the Peterloo Massacre.[7]

He married the Irish beauty Rhoda Vava Mary Lecky Pike in 1921. The couple had a son, Mark Birley, and a daughter, Maxime, who later became a fashion model and design muse as Maxime de la Falaise. His grandchildren, and his son's offspring, include Robin Birley and India Jane Birley. Other descendants include the fashion designer and muse Loulou de la Falaise and her daughter, fashion model Lucie de la Falaise.


  1. ^ "Birley, Oswald Hornby Joseph (BRLY898OH)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ John Steegman, (1957), A Survey of Portraits in Welsh Houses, page 240 (The National Museum of Wales)
  5. ^ Reed, Michael (5 April 2013). "Duchess of Cambridge not posh? Her ancestor was lord mayor of Leeds". The Guardian (London: GMG). ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Retrieved 9 July 2013. 
  6. ^ Professor Smith, 1911, oil on canvas. Collection of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  7. ^ Entry on Birley family genealogy

External links[edit]