Sir Oswald Birley MC RA ROI (1880 - 1952)


Oswald Birley was born in New Zealand while his parents were travelling on a  world tour and his father  became determined to further  his obvious  artistic talent;  Oswald was educated at  Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge  and then attended the  Academie Julien in Paris and the  St John’s  Wood School of Art. A  great grandson of the Hugh Birley who led the troops at Peterloo, in World War 1 he served  in the Royal Fusiliers  and then became a Captain in the Intelligence Corps  and won  the Military Cross.   In 1921 he married beauty Rhoda Pike when she was 21 and he was 41 and they had two children, Mark (the founder of the famous Annabel’s club and Maxime,  a model and muse who married the Marquis de la Falaise but is more famous for being the mistress of Duff Cooper, Ambassador to France.

At the time of his marriage he lived in a  house designed by Leigh at 62 Wellington Road, on the corner of Acacia Road, opposite the house lived in by Onslow Forbes (which is now the site of St Johns Wood Station), and replaced it with  a studio hose designed by Clough Williams-Ellis. This in its turn was demolished and the block of flats called Birley Lodge built on the site. (1971 Sanders and Westbrook)

Oswald and Rhoda also  bought and refurbished Charleston Manor in East Sussex and founded the Charleston Festival.


A successful portrait painter, he was a favourite of the Royal Family, gave Churchill art lessons and painted innumerable war heroes. He was knighted in 1949. Despite the constrictions of portrait painting he was able to show emotional empathy and realism  and in an exhibition of his works by Philip Mould gallery  a portrait of a nurse showed these traits – Birley had painted her in the First World War as payment for her doctor father’s help when he was ill.




This page was added on 02/09/2023.

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