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8 Jul 2021

Newly acquired painting now on display at Fyvie Castle

A portrait of a young Edwardian woman, wearing a floaty white dress and a large bonnet, hangs at the centre of a collection of paintings on a green-papered wall. Smart chairs and a polished wooden chest stand below the group of portraits.
Portrait of Lorna Marsali at Fyvie Castle by Philip Alexius de László.
After more than a century, a painting that was intended to hang at Fyvie Castle has finally returned ‘home’.

This glamorous portrait of Lorna Marsali Forbes-Leith was commissioned in 1913 by her grandmother, Lady Leith of Fyvie. Lady Leith asked a family friend, the acclaimed artist Philip Alexius de László, to paint Lorna to add to the collection of portraits at Fyvie Castle, including the famous painting of Colonel William Gordon by Batoni.

Lorna was born in 1893 to Ethel-Louise Forbes-Leith and Sir Charles Rosdew Burn, who adopted his wife’s surname when she inherited Fyvie Castle from her father Alexander, 1st Baron Leith of Fyvie. Lorna spent much of her childhood in the family home of Fyvie Castle.

A view of the very grand exterior of Fyvie Castle on a sunny day. Dark green branches fall into the shot in the near foreground.
Fyvie Castle

Eager to be useful when the war of 1914 broke out, she enlisted as a volunteer nurse at Stoodely Knowle in Devon. This was her father’s former family home and had been turned into a hospital. It was during this mission, already considered daring by her family, that she fell in love with Captain Conyers Frederick Lang. Lorna and Frederick eloped and married in London in 1916, against the advice of her family. Unfortunately, the marriage was not a happy one.

In 1933, by then a mother of two, she divorced Lang and married Colonel George Prior in the same year. Passionate about racehorses, like many women of her status, she decided to settle in her country estate of Fishleigh House (in Devon) to escape the hectic life of London. Upon the death of her husband, she moved to Thorpe Mandeville (in Oxfordshire) where she died in 1975.

Due to the estrangement from her wider family, this beautiful portrait did not make it onto the walls of Fyvie Castle during Lorna’s lifetime. It probably graced the walls of both Fishleigh House and Thorpe Mandeville manor, before it was passed to Lorna’s granddaughter. She decided to put the painting up for sale at auction. This sale had the additional benefit of connecting cousins who had not known of one another’s existence – helping to resolve a family rift.

A portrait of a young Edwardian woman, wearing a floaty white dress and a large bonnet, hangs at the centre of a collection of paintings on a green-papered wall. Smart chairs and a polished wooden chest stand below the group of portraits.
The portrait now hanging in Fyvie Castle

The painting was purchased by the National Trust for Scotland at auction in 2020, with support from Art Fund and the National Fund for Acquisitions.

National Trust for Scotland Curator for the North East Vikki Duncan said: ‘When the opportunity came to bring this painting back to Fyvie Castle and hang it where it had been first intended, I was intrigued and set out on a path to explore the past.

‘After more than 100 years, the painting is a wonderful asset to Fyvie Castle and it is lovely for us to see mother and daughter reunited after so long. Although imposing and grand, Fyvie was still a family home, and we know that family relationships can be complex. It seems that Lorna and her mother Ethel were, eventually, able to reconcile their differences.’

Vikki continued: ‘The National Trust for Scotland is very grateful for the support of our generous funders who made this homecoming possible.’

“By placing their portraits together, within the family grouping, it highlights a tale of love, loss and reconciliation that resonates with many of us and illustrates that the stories of the past are still very relevant today.”
Vikki Duncan
Curator, National Trust for Scotland

Philip Alexius de László was a socialite portrait painter of Hungarian origin. He was active at the beginning of the 20th century and painted members of royal families and the aristocracy in Britain and all over Europe. Succeeding from John Singer Sargent as the favourite portraitist of the time, he moved in literary and intellectual circles in England and France. His paintings are rarely to be found in museums, for his portraits are generally proudly kept in families. Although it was catalogued, this painting of Lorna Marsali had been considered ‘whereabouts unknown’ by the de László Archives Trust.

Hazel Williamson, National Fund for Acquisitions Manager, said: ‘We are really delighted to support the acquisition of this beautiful portrait of Lorna Marsali by the acclaimed artist Philip Alexius de László . Finally, the portrait will be returned to the home for which it was intended, enabling the National Trust for Scotland to reunite the Leith family at Fyvie Castle.’

The National Fund for Acquisitions, administered with Scottish Government funding by National Museums Scotland, contributes towards the acquisition of objects for the collections of museums, galleries, libraries and archives throughout Scotland. Find out more about the work of the National Fund for Acquisitions on the National Museums Scotland website.

Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. It provides millions of pounds every year to help museums to acquire and share works of art across the UK, further the professional development of their curators, and inspire more people to visit and enjoy their public programmes. In response to Covid-19, Art Fund has made £2 million in adapted funding available to support museums through reopening and beyond, including Respond and Reimagine grants to help meet immediate need and reimagine future ways of working. Art Fund is independently funded, supported by the 130,000 members who buy the National Art Pass, who enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places, 50% off major exhibitions, and receive Art Quarterly magazine. Art Fund also supports museums through its annual prize, Art Fund Museum of the Year. In a unique edition of the prize for 2020, Art Fund responded to the unprecedented challenges that all museums are facing by selecting five winners and increasing the prize money to £200,000. The winners were Aberdeen Art Gallery; Gairloch Museum; Science Museum; South London Gallery; and Towner Eastbourne.

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