Lillie Langtry

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Lillie Langtry

by Henry Van der Weyde
albumen cabinet card, April 1885
5 3/4 in. x 4 1/8 in. (146 mm x 104 mm)
Purchased, 1973
Primary Collection
NPG P863

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Henry Van der Weyde (1838-1924), Painter and photographer. Artist or producer associated with 53 portraits, Sitter in 1 portrait.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Callow, Simon, Oscar Wilde and his Circle, 2013, p. 44
  • Callow, Simon, Character Sketches: Oscar Wilde and His Circle, 2000, p. 43
  • Funnell, Peter; Warner, Malcolm, Millais: Portraits, 1999 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 19 February to 6 June 1999), p. 198
  • Levitt, Sarah, Fashion in Photographs 1880-1900, 1991, p. 39
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 107 Read entry

    'The Jersey Lily' was the daughter of the Dean of Jersey, and by virtue of her first marriage to a wealthy businessman and good looks she became the toast of London society, and an intimate friend of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). Her first appearance on stage in 1881 caused a sensation, primarily because of her social position and beauty, and she was not taken seriously as an actress. A New York critic wrote following her debut there the next year: 'The difference between Madame Modjeska [the actress Helena Modjeska 1840-1909] and Lillie Langtry is that the first is a Pole and the other a stick'. In 1884 she took over the management of the Prince's Theatre, London, and this photograph shows her in the role of Lady Ormond in the revival of Peril, an adaptation of Sardou's Nos Intimes, which opened there in April 1885.

    The American photographer van der Weyde came to London after the Civil War, in which he had fought, and set up his studio at 182 Regent Street. With Ralph Robinson he was a founder member of the Linked Ring Brotherhood of those 'who delight in photography solely for its artistic possibilities', but he is best remembered as the creator of the first commercial studio to rely entirely on artificial light. This was provided by a Crossley gas engine which drove a Siemens dynamo, which in turn fed an arc light in a five-foot reflector, giving 4,000 candle-power illumination. This is advertised in the stamp on the mounts of his photographs: 'THE VAN DER WEYDE LIGHT'.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 363

Events of 1885back to top

Current affairs

Redistribution Act; continues Gladstone's extensive package of electoral reform, although his Liberal government is later defeated when the Irish Nationalists, seeking support for Home Rule, side with the Conservatives over a budget measure. The Marquess of Salisbury is invited to form a 'caretaker' government.

Art and science

The Dictionary of National Biography is first published quarterly, under the editorship of Leslie Stephen, and sub-editorship of Sidney Lee. Volume 63 completed the work in 1900. Setting new standards in life writing, the DNB exemplified the form of the brief biography, formalising a style and approach to writing lives, based on Stephen's guiding principles of selection and presentation in 'business-like form'.


The death of the famous General Charles Gordon sparks outrage in Britain. Sent to the Sudan to evacuate Egyptian forces from Khartoum, threatened by Sudanese rebels under Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi, Khartoum quickly came under siege, and Gordon is killed and beheaded two days before the relief force arrived. The British public proclaimed Gordon a martyr, and attacked government, particularly Gladstone, for not relieving British forces earlier.

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