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Lola Montes
, c. 1845

by Joseph Karl Stieler (attributed)

oil on canvas (frame: 105.0 cm x 85.0 cm, support: 71.0 cm x 52.0 cm)

Lola Montez (1818–1861) was the most famous of the international performers who toured Australia during the boom years of the 1850s. Irish-born, she had spent much of the 1840s touring throughout Europe, attracting praise and scandal in equal measure while also compiling an impressive register of lovers: among them King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who abdicated on her account. After five years in America, she arrived in Australia in 1855 and performed in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide before heading to the goldfields. Her signature ‘Spider Dance’ – in which she enacted having a spider caught in ‘an extremely short gauze skirt’ – caused outrage in some places but was much loved by audiences in Ballarat, Bendigo and Castlemaine. She left Australia in 1856 and took to lecturing on beauty and morality when her stage career ended. She died from syphilis-related symptoms at age 42 and was buried in Brooklyn.

It is thought that this is one of two portraits of Montez commissioned by King Ludwig I from Joseph Stieler, who painted thirty-six works for the ‘Gallery of Beauties’ at Nymphenburg Palace, Munich. Stieler’s other portrait of Montez is still displayed there. This portrait, however, was not to the King’s satisfaction. He is believed to have given it to Montez, who took it to England where it was sold in 1849.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2010
Accession number: 2010.75