Fyvie’s mother and daughter reunited after 100 years
A family separation that lasted for more than a century came to an end after a portrait still meant to hang at Fyvie Castle was exhibited by the conservation charity, the National Trust for Scotland.
The glamorous portrait of Lorna Marsali was commissioned in 1913 by her grandmother Lady Leith of Fyvie from a family friend, the famous painter Philip Alexius de László.
It was intended to be hung at Fyvie Castle, adding to its impressive collection of family portraits, including Batoni’s famous portrait of Colonel William Gordon.
Unfortunately, Lorna’s 1916 marriage to an army captain was deemed inappropriate and she was estranged from her family, which meant the portrait had not reached the castle walls. Instead, the piece remained in Lorna’s own family, where it likely graced the walls of Fishleigh House and Thorpe Mandeville Manor where she resided throughout the 20th century, before passing to her granddaughter.
National Trust for Scotland North East Curator Vikki Duncan said: “When the opportunity arose to take this painting back to Fyvie Castle and hang it where it was intended, I was intrigued and set out on the path of exploring the past.
“After more than 100 years, painting is a wonderful asset to Fyvie Castle and it is wonderful for us to see mother and daughter reunited after such a long time.
“Although imposing and elegant, Fyvie has always been a family home, and we know family relationships can be complex.
“It seems that Lorna and her mother Ethel were finally able to reconcile their differences.
“By placing their portraits together, within the immediate family group, he highlights a story of love, loss and reconciliation that resonates with us all and illustrates that stories from the past are still very relevant today.
“The charity is very grateful for the support of our generous donors who made this homecoming possible. “
The painting was purchased at auction in 2020 with support from the Art Fund and the National Fund for Acquisitions.
Hazel Williamson, Head of the National Acquisitions Fund, said: “We are truly delighted to support the acquisition of this magnificent portrait of Lorna Marsali by renowned artist Philip Alexius de László.
“Finally, the portrait will be returned to the house for which it was intended, allowing the National Trust for Scotland to reunite the Leith family at Fyvie Castle.”
Philip Alexius de László, a famous socialite portrait painter of Hungarian origin, was active in the early 20th century and painted members of royal families and aristocracy in Britain and across Europe.
Following on from John Singer Sargent, at the turn of the century he rubbed shoulders with the literary and intellectual world in England as well as in France.
His paintings are rare in museums and the portraits he makes are generally jealously preserved in families.
This painting, although cataloged, had been considered an “unknown place” by the de Laszlo Archives Trust.
Lorna Marsali was born in 1893 to Ethel-Louise Forbes-Leith and her husband, Sir Charles Rosdew Burn, who adopted his wife’s surname when she inherited Fyvie Castle from her father, Alexander Lord Leith of Fyvie.
Lorna Marsali spent much of her childhood in the family castle of Fyvie.
It was in 1913 that Lady Leith of Fyvie, Lorna Marsali’s grandmother, Marie-Louise, commissioned the portrait from a family friend, the painter of the Society, from Laszlo.
The painting was meant to hang on Fyvie but he never did… until now.
Eager to be useful when the war of 1914 broke out, she enlisted as a volunteer nurse at Studely Knowle in Devon, her father’s former family home turned into a hospital.
It was during this mission, already considered daring by her family, that she fell in love with Captain Frederick Conyers-Lang.
She caused a scandal with him by fleeing and marrying in London in 1916 against the advice of her family.
Unfortunately, the marriage was not happy.
In 1933, then mother of two, more determined than ever, she divorced Lang and remarried the same year with another soldier, Colonel George Prior.
Passionate about racehorses and riding like many women of her rank, she decides to settle in her domain of Fishleigh House to escape the hectic life of London.
When her husband died, she moved to Thorpe Mandeville Manor where she died in 1975.
Due to her family’s remoteness, this painting never returned to Fyvie but passed, by descent, to Lorna’s granddaughter who put the painting up for auction.
The sale of the portrait brought together cousins who were unaware of each other’s existence – helping to resolve a family break-up.