Portrait of Raymond P. Johnson-Ferguson signed and dated 'de Laszlo/1922.' (lower right) oil on canvas 64 x 54.5 cm. (25 1/2 x 21 1/2 in.)
PROVENANCE: Commissioned by Lord Aberconway and thence by family descent
LITERATURE: Artist's Sitters' Book, Vol. II, f. 31: Raymond Johnson-Ferguson Aug. 23 rd 1922 DLA050-0067, letter from 1st Baron Aberconway to de László, 3 December 1922
Philip de László was one of the most famous and cosmopolitan portrait painters of the late 19th and early 20th century, and perhaps the last heir of the grand manner, as recently seen at the Van Dyck in Britain exhibition at Tate Britain, where de László's portrait of Mrs Sandys hung between Lord Dalhousie and Almina Wertheimer by Sargent.
Raymond Johnson-Ferguson was one of the ten grandsons of 1st Baron Aberconway, the commissioner of the present portrait. During the First World War, at Lord Aberconway's request, de László had already painted Raymond's father, Major the Hon. Edward Johnson-Ferguson, as well as his wife Elsie, Aberconway's elder daughter. A double-portrait of their two elder sons, Neil and Brian, had previously been painted by the artist in 1912, the year Raymond was born.
The present work was the first of at least five portraits Lord Aberconway commissioned de László to paint of his grandsons. Although not originally intended as a series, it developed as such, certainly thanks to Aberconway's appreciation of this first portrait. In a letter dated 3 December 1922, he wrote to de László: "I should very much like you to paint 2 others of my little grandsons as you did Raymond." Raymond's cousins Charles and Guy McLaren were subsequently painted in 1923, followed by individual portraits of his brothers Brian and Neil. All were displayed in Italianate cassetta frames.
Frames were extremely important to de László, who, as a rule, chose carefully within which to paint his canvases, on his easel, so as to ensure the perfect harmony of the work. Although Lord Aberconway did not commission de László to paint the five portraits of his grandsons at once, the choice of frames played a part in the development of a coherent group. All the pictures also share the same dimensions, and may well have hung in the same room. It is worth noting that the second portrait of the series, that of Charles McLaren, who was almost the same age as Raymond, almost entirely reproduces in reverse the composition of the present portrait. Both boys wear the same open-necked shirt against a stormy sky, and both hold a ball, the only difference being that Charles made a point of having a real football in his hands, as opposed to the woolly prop suggested by de László in the present portrait.
Raymond Patrick Johnson-Ferguson was born in Dumfriesshire in 1912, the youngest of the three sons of The Hon. Edward Johnson-Ferguson and his wife Elsie Dorothea McLaren. He was educated privately before pursuing his studies at Pembroke College, Oxford. Raymond was commissioned into the Westmorland & Cumberland Yeomanry (R.A.), and during the Second World War, he served in the Artillery in the Middle and Far East. He was mentioned in Dispatches and was awarded the Territorial Efficiency Decoration (T.D.). He later served in the Territorial Army, commanding the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry after the war.
He farmed extensively in Langholm, South West Scotland from 1946 to 1977, and was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for Cumberland. In 1988 he married Winifred Clare Edwards, the daughter of Colonel H. Edwards. There were no children of the marriage. Colonel Raymond Johnson-Ferguson died on 10 September 1997 in Langholm.
1.Lord Aberconway also commissioned the portrait of his grandson John, but it seems this project never came to fruition. 2.DLA050-0067, op. cit. 3.This portrait is now destroyed, and although it is likely Neil was also painted in 1923, there is no photographic record of it, and it has not been possible to verify its date, nor how it was framed.
Paul Laib studio photograph reference L10976 / C1(5)