Day 281 of Colourisation Project – February 12
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
Lillie Langtry was one of the most fascinating characters of the Victorian era. Her beauty and charms were legendary. Years ahead of her time and with a fame spanning over half a century, she was a controversial figure who challenged Victorian attitudes to women.
Known for her relationships with ‘noblemen’, including the Prince of Wales, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and Prince Louis of Battenberg. Her looks and charms attracted interest from all quarters. She became the darling of London’s high society and the subject of widespread public and media interest.
George Bernard Shaw once remarked: “I resent Mrs Langtry, she has no right to be intelligent, daring and independent, as well as lovely. It is a frightening combination of attributes.”
US President, Theodore Roosevelt said of her, “She’s so pretty she takes away a man’s breath.”
Even Oscar Wilde, was taken by her: “I would rather have discovered Lillie Langtry than America. She is the most beautiful woman in the world.”
A well-known philanderer, The Prince of Wales, (the future king Edward VII), was completely smitten. Although married to Princess Alexandra with six children, Langtry soon became his first publicly acknowledged, semi-official mistress.
She was even presented to the Prince’s mother, Queen Victoria. The Prince had a house built as a private retreat for them in Bournemouth, where they their spent weekends. Designed by Langtry herself, the Prince once complained to her, “I’ve spent enough on you to build a battleship”, whereupon the quick witted Langtry replied, “And you’ve spent enough in me to float one.”
Their three year affair came to an end when French actress Sarah Bernhard entered the picture.
It was at the suggestion of close friend Oscar Wilde, that she took up a career in acting. In 1881, her stage debut at the Haymarket Theatre in London was the social event of the season. The following year she started her own company touring the UK and the USA.
Using her high public profile Langtry became the first woman to endorse a commercial product, Pears Soap, setting in train the practice of celebrity endorsement. Known for her fine business sense, she went on to make several shrewd investments, including real estate in the US and raising race horses in England. Before long she was one of the wealthiest independent women of her time.
Lillie Langtry died of pneumonia this day, February 12, 1929, in Monte Carlo, aged 75.