From The Vaults

13 March 2023
de László and Rugby

Extraordinary match footage has emerged of the 1928 Ireland v England match in Dublin. The following article documents the provenance of the film and its links to one of the most accomplished portrait painters of the 19th Century…

Philip de László, c. 1937

Philip de László holding his cine camera, in conversation with the Duke of Connaught, c. 1937: de László Archive © de László Foundation

Philip de László was born in Budapest in 1869. On completing his studies at academies of fine arts in Budapest and Munich, he quickly came to be recognised as one of the most gifted portrait painters of his generation. His commissions included Franz Joseph I, Pope Leo XIII and Edward VII.

In 1900, de László married Lucy Guinness. The couple settled in England in 1907 and Philip attained naturalised British citizenship in 1914. They had six children, including a son called Stephen.

England team v France, 1926

Stephen de László was an avid rugby player and friend of Sir Thomas Devitt, who would go on to earn four caps for England between 1926 and 1928. Known for his extraordinary pace, Devitt debuted against Ireland in 1926, before helping Wavell Wakefield's side to victory over France.

He was not selected in 1927 but returned to the national side in 1928 and was involved in victories over New South Wales at Twickenham, and Wales in Swansea. He was selected to play against Ireland in Dublin but was unable to play, likely because of injury.

Instead, de László and Devitt travelled to Dublin as supporters. Stephen brought with him a Cine B camera, that had been given to his father by Eastman Kodak in 1925. With it, he recorded this remarkable film of both the England and Ireland sides pre-kick off and several incidents during the game.

The voiceover was supplied many years later by Stephen's brother. In it he incorrectly identifies the England captain Ronald Cove-Smith as Geoffrey Conway, who had played with great distinction for England earlier in the decade. Both sides can be seen shivering and wrapping their arms around their sides, which is to be expected from a game that was played in teeming rain and strong winds.

Despite the conditions, Cove-Smith's side prevailed, 7-6, by a try and dropped goal to two Irish tries (tries were worth three points and dropped goals four at the time). They would go on to complete a Grand Slam, which Devitt would share by virtue of his appearance in Swansea.

A second film shows Devitt in his Scots Guards uniform at Aldershot. These two wonderful time capsules have been preserved by the de László Archive Trust, who showcase many of Philip de László's work on their website.

We would like to thank Katherine Field and the Trust for making them known to us.