Oswald Hornby Joseph Birley
31 March 1880
|Died||6 May 1952 (aged 72)|
Rhoda Vava Mary Lecky Pike (m. 1921)
|Alma mater||Trinity College|
|Known for||Royal portraitist|
Birley was born on 31 March 1880 in New Zealand to Hugh Francis Birley (1855-1916) 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.
He served in France in 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.
He painted several highly regarded portraits of his friend Sir Winston Churchill (to whom he also gave lessons), and also a life-size portrait of Mahatma Gandhi which was the first to be hung in the Lok Sabha shortly after Indian Independence on 28 August 1947.
Other subjects were many war-time leaders such as Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery, as well as Admiral Mountbatten and Air Marshal Trenchard. He also painted the wealthy American financiers Andrew Mellon and J. P. Morgan, the psychiatrist Sir James Crichton-Browne, and Welsh architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. Birley painted the portrait of Leeds Lord Mayor Sir Charles Lupton (1855-1935).
He was knighted in 1949.
In 1921, the 41-year-old Birley married the 21-year-old "Irish beauty" Rhoda Vava Mary Lecky Pike (1900-1981). Rhoda later founded the Charleston Manor Festival. The couple had two children:
Birley died at his home in London on 6 May 1952, a week after returning from six-week trip to the United States where he received medical assistance.
Birley's descendants include Robin Birley (born 1958), who married Lucy Ferry (1960-2018), and India Jane Birley (born 1961). Other descendants include the fashion designer and muse Loulou de la Falaise (1948-2011), who was married to Desmond FitzGerald, 29th Knight of Glin (1937-2011), and later to Thadée Klossowski de Rola, a French writer who is the younger son of the painter Balthus (1908-2001). Loulou's niece is the fashion model Lucie de la Falaise (born 1973).