Arthur James Balfour 1914

Seated almost full-length to the left, wearing a red Doctor's gown over a dark suit with a white collar and black neck-tie, on his knee an open book which he is holding with his left hand, his right arm resting on the arm of the chair

Oil on canvas, 154.3 x 113.7 cm (60 ¾ x 44 ¾ in.)

Inscribed top left:  P.A. de László / 1914.VI.  

Sitters’ Book I, f. 97:  Arthur James Balfour / June 27. 1914

Trinity College, Cambridge

This portrait was commissioned in 1914 for Trinity College, Cambridge, Balfour having previously commissioned his own portrait by László in 1908 [2705]. Subscribers managed to raise £500 and de László generously agreed to the relatively low fee, normally charging closer to £650. There also exist a preparatory oil sketch [2708] and a pencil sketch [2335], both of which remain in the collections of descendants of the artist.  

The presentation of the portrait took place in London, at Devonshire House, instead of in Cambridge, and although the date which was originally suggested for the ceremony was 14 July 1914,[1] it seems that the following day was eventually chosen. On 15 July, the Duke of Devonshire wrote in his diary: “Presentation of Arthur Balfour speech to Trinity College. Picture by Laszlo [sic]. Not quite good. Rather a nice ceremony. I did the Presentation & the Master received it. A.J.B. made a charming speech. Afterwards showed Laszlo [sic] & his friends around the house. They liked the pictures.”[2] The sitter was also painted by John Singer Sargent in 1908.

Arthur James Balfour was born at Whittinghame (now Whittingehame), East Lothian, on 25 July 1848, the eldest son and fourth child of James Maitland Balfour, of Whittinghame, and his wife, Lady Blanche Mary Harriet, second daughter of James Brownlow William Gascoyne-Cecil, second Marquess of Salisbury. He was educated at Eton and went on to Trinity College, Cambridge. His first published work was A Defence of Philosophic Doubt (1879), and later publications included Foundations of Belief (1895) and his Gifford lectures on Theism (1915 and 1922-3). At the suggestion of Lord Salisbury he stood as the Conservative candidate for the borough of Hertford and in 1874 entered parliament as a supporter of Disraeli's last administration. He was a Conservative both by choice and by tradition.

He was president of the British Association (1904), the British Academy (from 1921), Psychical Research Society, the Synthetic Society.  He was an Honorary Fellow of his college; Chancellor of Cambridge (1919) and Edinburgh (1891) universities; foreign member of the French Academy; Romanes lecturer at Oxford; Gifford lecturer; member of the Order of Merit.

In 1877 he recommended the granting of university degrees to women. In 1878 he made his first attempt at legislation by the introduction of a Burials Bill which, however, was ‘talked out’. In the same year he became Salisbury's parliamentary private secretary and in that capacity attended the Congress of Berlin (June-July 1878). It was, however, the Conservative disaster at the general election of March 1880 that first brought him into notice. He had retained his seat at Hertford, though only by a small majority, and in the new parliament became associated with the meteoric ‘Fourth Party’, sometimes described, but not altogether correctly, as ‘a party of four’, since Balfour's real allegiance remained with his uncle, who presently succeeded Beaconsfield in the Conservative leadership. He was Secretary for Ireland 1887-91, and later as First Lord of the Admiralty and then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs during the First World War. From 1902 to 1905, he was Prime Minister. Known as one of the most versatile and capable statesmen of his generation, he was responsible for the Education Bill (1902) and the Licensing Act (1904). He was created 1st Earl of Balfour in 1922 and Knight of the Garter in the same year. In 1912 he acted as one of de László's four sponsors in his successful application to become a British Subject. He enjoyed music and games, particularly golf and tennis.  Lord Balfour died in 1930.        

SOURCE: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


Given by subscribers to Trinity College in 1914


•The French Gallery, London, A Series of Portraits and Studies by Philip A. de Laszlo, M.V.O., June 1923, no. 41

•The Walker Art Gallery Liverpool, Fifty-first Autumn Exhibition, 1923, no. 962  


The Graphic, 11 July 1914, ill.

•Extract from the diary of the 9th Duke of Devonshire from 15 July 1914 [London]: Chatsworth Archives, Bakewell, Derbyshire

The Studio Magazine, vol. LXVIII, 1916, pp. 145-156, ill. p. 147

The Illustrated London News, 5 July, 1924, p. 21, ill.

•Rutter, Owen, Portrait of a Painter, London, 1939, pp. 263, 293, 329

•McConkey, Kenneth, Edwardian Portraits: Images of an Age of Opulence, Antique Collectors Club, 1987, pp. 238-39, ill. p. 238

•De Laszlo, Sandra, ed., & Christopher Wentworth-Stanley, asst. ed., A Brush with Grandeur, Paul Holberton publishing, London 2004, pp. 32-33, fig. 23

•DLA053-0083, letter from William D. Whetham to de László, 3 March 1914

•DLA053-0086, letter from William D. Whetham to de László, 16 July 1914

•DLA053-0091, letter from William D. Whetham to de László, 3 July 1914

CC  2008

[1] DLA053-0091, op. cit. 

[2] Devonshire, op. cit.