One of 50 paintings exhibited under the title Power & Beauty: The Art of Oswald Birley, the subject dressed in Venetian carnival costume, whilst holding a turquoise Venetian mask, drew the lion’s share of attention at Philip Mould’s gallery. Shown in 2017 at a one-off exhibition in Pall Mall, the portrait was in fact of Birley’s wife, the Anglo-Irish beauty and artist, Rhoda Vava Mary Lecky Pike.
Chosen for their honeymoon, Venice was one of Birley’s favourite foreign destinations. Painting the façade of Santa Maria della Salute, he regarded the architectural study of the Venetian church as an ‘off duty’ creation – a form of relaxation from the incessant demands of portrait production.
Inheriting social and artistic savoir faire, their son Mark Birley’s fondness for Venice stretched to visits to its famed landmark Harry’s Bar. So when Birley created his own Harry’s Bar, the Birley brand’s third principal club alongside Annabel’s and Mark’s Club, it did take its name from the famous Cipriani hostelry in Venice. However, if there was one person as well-placed to delineate the artistic, and romantic beauty of Venice in a private members club in London it would be Birley.