Portrait of Lola an attractive proposition

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“When you met Lola Montez, her reputation automatically made you think of bedrooms,” Aldous Huxley said. In the 19th century, it was almost impossible for a woman to have lots of sex with lots of different people without it dominating the way her story was told.

he accounts of the life of Lola Montez (1821 to 1861) range from the critical to the lustful. Her obituary reads: “Born of an English or Irish family of respectable rank, at a very young age the unfortunate girl proved to possess the fatal gift of beauty.

She appeared for a short time on stage as a dancer (for whom the degradation of her bereaved parents mourned and issued funeral cards to signify that she was now dead to them) then blossomed as the most notorious Paphian in Europe. Paphian, in this context, means pertaining to illicit sexual desire.

Lola Montez was from Sligo, an intelligent and energetic woman who engaged with the world in a deeply unusual way. She was oblivious to social boundaries. I doubt she’s neurotypical. Montez was much more than a sexual adventure, although she never missed an opportunity. She had at least three husbands (some overlapping) and many lovers (some famous). Montez slept with the famous composer and pianist Franz Liszt, but also all those who had the opportunity. Liszt’s interpretations evoked an atmosphere known as “Lisztomania”. It was a 19th century version of Beatlemania and it looks a lot of fun. There are several accounts of her berating her detractors with a horse whip. A portrait miniature of Lola Montez (aka Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld) will be auctioned on day two of Adam’s upcoming Country House Collections sale.

The portrait (Lot 472: est. €2,000-3,000) is a scaled-down version of a larger oil painting by Austrian artist Joseph Karl Stieler, best known for his stormy portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven. The miniature (10cm x 14cm) is signed “Steiler” and painted in oil on porcelain, as was the fashion at the time.

Stieler (1781 to 1858) was court artist to Bavarian kings and painted Montez’s portrait for her lover, King Ludwig I.

The portrait entered the King’s Gallery of Beauties (Schönheitengalerie), a collection of 36 portraits of the most beautiful women of the time. Montez, a bright-eyed brunette with gorgeous breasts and a mischievous glint in her eye, was portrayed as the Spanish performer she then pretended to be. The case ended, as so many of his cases ended, with his departure from town.

Being both beautiful and notorious, Montez was very painted. The Steiler portrait is the most famous, but in 2005 A Portrait Of Lola Montez by Conrad Kiesel (1846-1921) sold for €15,600 at Christies. His business card sold for $148 (€126) at HA Auctions in 2009, but expect to shell out between €3,000 and €4,000 for a signed letter like the one that appeared at Sotheby’s Books and Manuscripts auction in France in 2013.

There are many books and films about his life, including Lola Montès (1955) directed by Max Ophüls, and these also have associated memorabilia: an unrestored poster of the film auctioned HA for $382 (€325) in 2015 .

And then there are his books. She published several and gave numerous lectures, her writings revealing her as an intelligent person of practical good sense.

“It is nature’s punishment that young girls must fade away and become as shrunken as their grandmothers,” she wrote. “I know of no quality that can expiate the absence of a coarse mind and disagreeable heart.”

His most famous book The Arts Of Beauty (1858) warns against cosmetics which “are not only destructive to the skin, but … ruinous to the health”, but extols the virtues of a beautiful breast: “Why a shouldn’t a woman be properly educated? in the good management of these extraordinary charms?”

The Adam’s Country House Collections sale will be presented at Townley Hall, Drogheda, from 10-12 October. The first part of the sale is a timed online auction, which will begin to close at 3 p.m. on Monday, October 12; part two will take place at Adam’s auction house, St Stephen’s Green, on Tuesday 13 October at 11am.

See adams.ie.

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