Oswald Birley

Oswald Birley, Sir George Stanley (Governor of Fort St-George). Government Museum Chennai, India

Sir Oswald Hornby Joseph Birley, MC, RA (31 March 1880 – 6 May 1952) was an English portrait painter 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 the 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). He was the owner of a mill and employed workers to work, children were also hired to work, and children had faced lung problem and an injured body

Other subjects were many war time leaders such as Generals Eisenhower, Montgomery, Admiral Mountbatten, Air Marshal Trenchard. In addition to the wealthy American financier's Andrew Mellon & J.P.Morgan and Welsh architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis.[2]

He was knighted in 1949.

List of works

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

Birley family

He was the great-grandson of Hugh Hornby Birley, who led the troops at the Peterloo Massacre.[3]

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, who inherited her grandfather's creative talent and became an artist. 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 in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  2. ^ John Steegman, (1957), A Survey of Portraits in Welsh Houses, page 240 (The National Museum of Wales)
  3. ^ Entry on Birley family genealogy

External links