General Artúr Görgei[1] 1901
Seated three-quarter length slightly to the right on a high-backed wooden armchair, looking full face to the viewer, wearing a black frock coat over a white shirt and bow tie, a gold ring on his right hand which rests on the arm of the chair, his left hand resting on his knee, against a grey-brown background

Oil on canvas, 110.5 x 97.1 cm (43 ½ x 38 ¼ in.)
Inscribed lower left:  László F.E. / v 1901. Bp. [in red paint]

Sitters’ Book I, f. 50:
Görgei Arthur / Budapest, 1901 február 17, vasárnap [Sunday]

Magyar Nemzeti Galéria (Hungarian National Gallery), Budapest[2] 

Inventory no 2655

In a series of sittings in the early months of 1901 (probably between February and May) de László painted General Görgei six times. The present portrait is the principal work in this series. There exists another fully finished half length portrait [7110] which de László presented to the General. A head-and-shoulders oil study [7111] is in a private collection in Budapest, and a preparatory drawing for this [5369] remained in the artist’s possession until his death. There is also a head-and-shoulders portrait [111418] in a private collection in Budapest, and an untraced study-portrait [110815] which the artist donated to the Hungarian Prime Minister's office in 1934. The sitter was aged eighty-three when these portraits were painted.

General Görgei was the commander in chief of the Hungarian army in the 1848-49 War of Independence against Austria. After his surrender to the overwhelming force of the invading Russian army which Austria had called on for help, Görgei was accused of treason by Lajos Kossuth, the leader of the revolution. For the rest of his life, Görgei became a scapegoat for the Hungarian defeat and was regarded by most of his compatriots as a traitor. In his monograph on de László in 1913 von Schleinitz wrote: “Although neither László nor the author of this book could ever agree with the accusations of treason that were made against Görgei after the capitulation of Világos,[3] the final verdict of the Hungarian nation was at that time [in 1901] not as finalised as it is now, in the General’s favour...  László, an enthusiastic patriot, would never have painted the portrait of a traitor. By the same token, the fact that he always revered and esteemed a man who, in his eyes, had been unjustly condemned by the world, throws a light on his spirit and personality.”[4] It is an irony of fate that the artist was to suffer similar misfortune during the First World War, when he was persecuted in England as a disloyal subject, and in Hungary as a renegade.[5]   

The present portrait shows de László’s remarkable psychological insight and his ability to empathize with his sitters. Rutter considers this portrait one of the most successful that he painted after his return to Budapest in 1901 from his delayed honeymoon in Switzerland.[6] “Here de László made no use of the trappings of uniforms and orders. He painted the General in the sombre frock-coat of the private citizen, thus directing attention to the dignity of the wise old face with the keen eyes under their white brows and to the strength of the hands, which are the salient part of the picture.”[7] Schleinitz, referring to the unjust accusation of treason, writes: "Sadly, one can well understand why his features express such deep grief and sorrowful, thoughtful reminiscing."[8]

De László attached great importance to his portrait. He studied photographs of Görgei, one (probably a daguerreotype) dating from 1849 and one taken in old age, which were secretly sent to him by the sitter’s brother István.[9] In a letter to his niece Lenke Návay, Görgei wrote:“Most of [de László’s] time is taken up with my portrait;  it is his firm intention that it should become one of his most successful works.”[10]  He described the sittings in a letter to another niece, Jolán, relating that he usually sat for de László in the mornings until about 11, as the artist preferred the light at this time of the day, and that de László took infinite pains over painting the portrait. “I don't know when this picture will be finished. The artist himself doesn’t know. Every day he finds something new in my facial expression. It is amazing to see in this man the strictness of his self-criticism allied to his untiring zeal for work. It is as if he were pleased whenever he discovers some sort of deficiency. The deficiencies are seen only by his eye.”[11]   

Artúr Görgei de Görgő et Toporcz was born in Toporc[12] on 30 January 1818. He was descended from an ancient Hungarian noble family whose German forebears had settled in northern Hungary in the mid-13th century. He attended a military academy and from 1836 he served as a junior officer. In 1845 he resigned his commission and enrolled in Prague University to study chemistry. A brilliant student, he was awarded a scholarship and wrote his doctoral thesis in 1848 on the essential oil[13] constituents of coconut oil. His dissertation was considered important enough to be published as a special publication of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.[14] He planned to pursue an academic career but when his uncle died he returned to Toporc to take over the family estate. In May 1848, soon after the outbreak of the War of Independence against Austria, he joined the Hungarian revolutionary army in the rank of captain. His talents were initially employed in organising the purchase and manufacture of arms and ammunition. He soon distinguished himself also as a commander and was rapidly promoted. In the spring of 1849 he inflicted a series of defeats on the Austrians and became Commander in Chief of the army and Minister of Defence. On 14 April the House of Habsburg was dethroned and Lajos Kossuth became Governor of Hungary.

Görgei disagreed with the dethronement as he hoped that a constitutional settlement could still be reached with Austria, but despite his more moderate views and the tension that arose between himself and Kossuth, he remained at his post. Austria asked Russia for help, and in June a Russian army of 200,000 invaded Hungary. Kossuth found his position hopeless. On 11 August he resigned, handed over power to Görgei and went into exile. Two days later, on 13 August 1849, Görgei surrendered to the Russian forces at Világos. Czar Nicholas I personally intervened on Görgei's behalf and insisted that he should be amnestied. Meanwhile Kossuth, who had fled to Ottoman territory in disguise, issued his famous Proclamation of Vidin[15] on 12 September, addressed to England and France. In this he accused Görgei of treason and blamed him for the Hungarian defeat. His aim was not merely to escape his own responsibility, but to persuade European public opinion that Hungary had lost the war not because of its weakness but because of internal subversion.[16] The charge of treason was made more plausible by the fact that Görgei was the only officer who received an amnesty.[17] 

Görgei was interned in Klagenfurt in Austria and then in nearby Viktring. He was deprived of any opportunity to earn a living, but in 1854 he was given an allowance by the Minister of Police. His wife, née Adèle Aubouin, a Frenchwoman he had married in Prague on 24 March 1848, joined him in exile. She gave birth to their two children, Berta (born 1850) and Kornél (born 1855), during his internment. His memoirs were published in German in Leipzig in 1852[18] but were immediately banned on Austrian territory. They were translated into English, Italian and Swedish in the same year. In Hungary they could not be published until 1911, in a translation by his brother István, who devoted his life to helping Görgei. Some of his fellow officers who were in exile abroad tried to defend his reputation, but within Hungary few rose to his defence. Kossuth, who remained in exile until his death in 1894, continued to be idolised in Hungary and his charge of treason was widely believed. When the Dual Monarchy was established in 1867, Görgei was allowed to return to Hungary. He was abused and vilified and there were demonstrations against him. It was not until the end of the century that public opinion gradually began to change. In 1884 when former officers demanded his rehabilitation, he was finally awarded a pension. In 1912 the famous writer Zsigmond Móricz, in a speech on the anniversary of the outbreak of the revolution of 1848, called Görgei “Hungary’s living martyr.”[19] When de László painted him he was living in quiet retirement in Visegrád, occupying himself with market gardening. He remained in friendly correspondence with the artist, and with Mrs de László (in German); the correspondence was continued later by his niece, Lenke Návay. The present portrait was purchased from the artist by the Hungarian National Gallery in 1905,[20] an indication that opinion about Görgei’s role in history was beginning to change. He died in Visegrád on 20 May 1916, aged ninety-eight.

After the end of the First World War and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, historians gained access to the archives in Vienna and the accusations against Görgei were discredited. In 1935, on the initiative of the then Prime Minister, Gyula Gömbös,[21] an equestrian statue of the General was erected in the grounds of Buda Castle. The sculptor chosen for this was György Vastagh jnr., an old acquaintance of de László’s. The artist took a great interest in this project. He wrote to his friend István de Bárczy, Secretary of State in the Prime Minister’s Office: “Your choice of the sculptor who will create Görgei’s statue is perfect, he is a very able man. I would like to add to the subscription to the statue...If any man deserves a statue as an example of a great patriot it is Görgei. He should be portrayed as an old man sitting (as in my portrait which is in the national Gallery in Budapest), or as the “penseur”, or on horseback as the young military leader of the revolutionary army in '48.”[22] 

Purchased from the artist by the Hungarian National Gallery, 1905

•Munich, Glaspalast International Exhibition, 1901, cat. n° 1031
•Budapest, Műcsarnok,
Országos Magyar Képzőművészeti Társulat tavaszi kiállítása (National Hungarian Fine Art Society's spring exhibition), 5 April - 15 May 1902, n° 255

•Düsseldorf, Internationale Kunstausstellung, 1 May – 23 October 1904, n° 961

•Munich, Kunstsalon Helbing, Ungarische Meister in München [23] (Hungarian Masters in Munich), 1904

•Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest, Philip de László “I am an artist of the world…”, 2019, no. 5

•De Laszlo, Sandra, ed., & Christopher Wentworth-Stanley, asst. ed.,
A Brush with Grandeur, Paul Holberton publishing, London, 2004, p. 91-2
•Hart-Davis, Duff, in collaboration with Caroline Corbeau-Parsons,
Philip de László.  His Life and Art.  Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2010, p. 68, 293
•Katalog der Internationalen Kunstausstellung Düsseldorf im städtischen Kunstpalast, 1. Mai bis 23. Oktober 1, 1904

•Koréh, Ferenc, Különjelentés Görgei Arthurról (Special broadcast about Arthur Görgei), In:  Koréh Ferenc beszél New Yorkból (Ferenc Koréh Broadcasting from New York), Viza Kft., Veszprém, 2001, p. 81-3
•Rutter, Owen,
Portrait of a Painter, Hodder and Stoughton London, 1939, p. 209-210, 233
Schleinitz, Otto von, Künstler Monographien, n° 106, Ph A. von László, Bielefeld and Leipzig (Velhagen & Klasing), 1913, p. 23-4, ill. p. 14
•Williams, Oakley (ed.), Foreword by Comte Robert de Montesquiou,
Selections from the Work of P. A. de László, Hutchinson, London, 1921, p. 37-40, ill. facing p. 36

•László, Philip de, 1934 diary, pasted to endleaf, Vasárnapi Újság Vol. 48, issue 28, p. 445, 14 July 1901 & Vol. 49, issue 15, p. 237, 13 April 1902, p. 904, ill. p. 78
•DLA006-0016, letter from István Görge
i to de László, 27 February 1901
•DLA038-0099, letter from Artúr Görge
i to de László, 24 May 1901
•DLA038-0097, letter from Artúr Görge
i to Mrs. de László, 9 December 1901
•DLA068-0146, letter from Lenke Návay to de László, 27 January 1902
•DLA038-0098, letter from Artúr Görge
i to Mrs.de László, 13 March 1902
•DLA039-0059, letter from Pál Majovszky to de László, 10 June 1905
•DLA022-0157, letter from de László to István Bárczy de Bárcziháza, 20 April 1934
•DLA022-0153, letter from de László to István Bárczy de Bárcziháza, 14 May 1934
•DLA038-0100, telegram from Artúr Görge
i to de László, undated
•DLA068-0142, 0143, 0144, 0147, 0150, 0151, 0156, 0160, 0161, undated letters from Lenke Návay to de László
•DLA090-0143, German press cutting, review of exhibition in Kunstsalon Helbing, Munich (source and date unknown)          

•DLA090-0181, German press cutting, review of the Hungarin FAS 1902                        

Pd’O 2012

[1]The 'y' ending of Hungarian names usually indicates nobility. In 1848-49 in the egalitarian spirit of the times the General changed to spelling his name with an 'i'  and used this spelling to the end of his life.  However his name is now invariably spelled with a 'y', and de László used this spelling. (See Görgei contra Kossuth, ed. László Pusztaszeri, Helikon Kiadó, Budapest, 1989, p. 51)

[2]On loan to the Tornyai János Múzeum, Hódmezővásárhely, Hungary

[3] Világos, near Arad (now in Romania), on 13th August 1849

[4] Schleinitz, op. cit., p. 23

[5] Hart-Davis,  op. cit., pp. 152-165;  Rutter, op. cit., pp. 302-342

[6] He was married in June 1900 but was recalled from his first honeymoon in the Lake District by Queen Victoria with a command to paint General White. Sir Ernest Cassel later invited them to continue their holiday at his home in Rida Furka in the Swiss Alps.

[7] Rutter, op. cit., pp. 209-10

[8] Schleinitz, op. cit., p. 24

[9] DLA006-0016, letter from István Görgei to de László, 27 February 1901

[10] Koréh, Ferenc, op. cit., p. 82

[11] ibid.

[12] Now Toporce in Slovakia

[13] Essential oils are volatile oils with a characteristic odour

[14] Über die festen, flüchtigen fetten Säueren des Cocusnussöles.  Sitzungberichte der kais. Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien, 1848

[15] Now in Bulgaria

[16] Hermann, Róbert, Görgei Artúr, a katona és politikus (Artúr Görgei, the soldier and the politician), In: A magyar történelem vitatott személyiségei (Controversial figures of Hungarian history), Kossuth Kiadó, Budapest, 2008, p.172 

[17] Although he undoubtedly believed that the amnesty extended to his fellow officers, they were handed over to the Austrians and thirteen of them were executed at Arad on 13 October.  In all about 40 officers were executed after the war and many more condemned to long periods of harsh imprisonment (Deák, István, The Lawful Revolution. Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians 1848-1849, Phoenix Press, London, 2001, pp. 331, 335)

[18] Mein Leben und Wirkung in Ungarn in den Jahren 1848 und 1849 (My life and activity in Hungary in the years 1848 and 1849), Brockhaus, Leipzig, 1852

[19] Móricz, Zsigmond, Március 15-i beszéd (Speech on 15th March), Nyugat,1912, Issue No. 6

[20] DLA039-0059, letter from Pál Majovszky to de László, 10 June 1905. The purchase price was 6000 Crowns

[21] Gömbös kept a sketch of Görgei by de László [110815] in his study

[22] DLA022-0157, letter from de László to István Bárczy de Bárcziháza, 20 April 1934. The statue was damaged in World War II. and then melted down and the bronze re-used for a statue of Stalin, but a copy was erected in 1997

[23] DLA090-0143, German press cutting, date and source unknown, review of exhibition