Vasco Lazzolo

Vasco Lazzolo was born in 1915. He studied at the Liverpool School of Art and the Slade, establishing a successful career as an illustrator of book covers and fashion magazines in the years leading up to the Second World War.

Following the war he was much in demand as a portrait painter, moving easily between London's high society and the seamy Soho demi-monde. He was a member of the notorious Thursday Club, which met for luncheon every week in a private room at Wheeler's restaurant in Old Compton Street; David Niven, Cecil Beaton, and Lord Louis Mountbatten were regulars, and the Kray twins and Kim Philby were rumoured to have visited on occasion. During this period Lazzolo produced sculptures of his friend the Duke of Edinburgh and the actor Peter Ustinov, both fellow Thursday Club members, and the writer William Somerset Maugham. He was also commissioned by the Maharajah of Cooch Behar to paint a portrait of his mistress, the model and sometime actress Vicki Martin, who was killed in a car crash shortly after the portrait was completed. Martin had previously been sketched by Lazzolo's friend, society osteopath Stephen Ward. The two men had first met at the Slade during the War, when the art school had been relocated from London to Oxford.


Click the image to view this film about Vasco Lazzolo on the Pathé website

Ward, who studied art at the Slade School in his spare time, was also a friend of the Duke of Edinburgh, and in 1961 was invited to paint him at Buckingham Palace. Today, Vasco Lazzolo is most often remembered as one of the few people prepared to testify for the defence at Stephen Ward's Old Bailey trial, during what came to be known as the Profumo Affair. Like other witnesses for the defence, Lazzolo had apparently been threatened by Chief Inspector Samuel Herbert, who told him that if he gave evidence on Ward's behalf, he risked being discredited, perhaps with the 'discovery' of some pornographic material in his studio and a subsequent prosecution. It is a measure of Lazzolo's regard for his friend that he took the stand, and was himself faced with a number of damaging allegations of impropriety.

Following the trial judge's hostile summing up, Ward took an overdose of barbiturates, and was in a coma when the jury reached their guilty verdict. He died without regaining consciousness on 3 August 1963, but repercussions from the scandal contributed to the downfall of the Conservative government at the following year's general election. Establishment figures had long since distanced themselves from Ward and Lazzolo's louche milieu. Little is known of Lazzolo's subsequent career; in the early 70s he was living in Malta, and it was there that he died, in 1984, at the age of 69.

The Aero commission

Vasco Lazzolo, Untitled, c.1956. Oil on canvas 24 x 18inches. By permission of Nestlé UK and Ireland.

Vasco Lazzolo, Untitled, c.1956. Oil on canvas 24 x 18inches. By permission of Nestlé UK and Ireland.

Aero advert, April 1956. By permission of Nestlé UK & Ireland

Aero advert, April 1956. By permission of Nestlé UK & Ireland.

Lazzolo's Aero Girl portrait was published in Illustrated magazine during April 1956. Prior to the Profumo scandal Lazzolo, the well-known society portrait painter and illustrator, would have been an obvious choice of artist for JWT's post-war Aero advertising campaign. The precise date that the portrait was painted and how he met his sitter Iris Le Louet is not known. Le Louet, then called Appleton was a professional tap dancer who may have been touring in London in her late teens when she sat for Lazzolo. This would have been several years before the Aero campaign began in 1950. Le Louet kept a framed black and white photograph of the portrait in her bedroom but it is not known if she was ever aware that the portrait had featured in the Aero advertising. The original painting is now held in the Rowntree & Co. Ltd archive at the Borthwick Institute for Archives.

Written by Kerstin Doble

Sources and more on Vasco Lazzolo

Richard Davenport-Hines (2013), An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo, Harper.

Anthony Summers and Stephen Dorril (2013), The Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward: Sex, Scandal and Deadly Secrets in the Profumo Affair, Headline.

David Harounoff (13 July 2013) Deny Our Affair ... Well He Would Wouldn't He?, Tribune Magazine. Retrieved 4 March 2014.

"Dr. Ward Trial: Miss Vickie Barrett admits that she told a lie during her evidence." Times [London, England] 27 July 1963: 5. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 Mar. 2014.

"Dr. Ward Trial: 'Not Able To Lay Bare Full Truth'", Times [London, England] 31 July 1963: 13 The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 Mar. 2014.

"Vasco Lazzolo." Times [London, England] 11 Aug. 1984: 8. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 Mar. 2014.

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