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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Lillie Langtry, c. 1885

W & D Downey

carte de visite photograph (support: 10.3 cm x 6.2 cm, image: 9.8 cm x 5.1 cm)

More images of this artwork

Lillie Langtry (1853-1929) was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton in Jersey in 1853. Aged nineteen she married the son of a Belfast shipowner with whom she moved to London. There, she rose to prominence as a professional beauty and style-setter whose acquaintances included various members of the social and cultural elite. She thus came within the orbit of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (known as Bertie to his family), Queen Victoria's eldest son and heir to the throne, whose dalliance with the Irish actress Nellie Clifden in 1861 had already created scandal. His liaison with Langtry commenced in 1877 and lasted three years. It was an open secret, generating notoriety and cachet for Langtry in equal measure. Around 1880 she began a relationship with Prince Louis of Battenberg (Louis Mountbatten), with whom she had a daughter. This precipitated the deterioration of her marriage which ended in 1881. Being without a conventional means of support she decided to earn a living as an actress and made her professional stage debut in London in December 1881. Capitalising on her beauty and reputation, she then formed her own theatre company with which she toured to the United States several times between 1882 and 1889. That year, having established independent wealth through investments in racehorses and real estate, she returned permanently to England. In 1899 she married the heir to an English baronetcy who was eighteen years her junior. She retired to Monaco after World War One and published her memoir The days I knew in 1925.

Brothers William Downey (1829-1915) and Daniel Downey opened their first photographic studio in 1863 in Newcastle-on-Tyne. In 1872 the business expanded to London, William running the new studio in Belgravia while Daniel maintained the business in Newcastle. The firm became known for carte de visite and cabinet card portraits of celebrities and the aristocracy and is said to have been particularly favoured by Queen Victoria, whom they photographed on many occasions from the late 1860s until the 1890s. The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, was also a significant patron. W & D Downey's 1868 carte-de-visite of his wife the Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra) piggy-backing her baby daughter Princess Louise was extraordinarily popular, selling some 300,000 copies. William's son William Edward Downey (1855-1908) also became a photographer.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Malcolm Robertson in memory of William Thomas Robertson 2018
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2018.38.88

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

W & D Downey

Lillie Langtry (age 32 in 1885)

Subject professions

Performing arts

Donated by

Malcolm Robertson (16 portraits)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Portfolio of 54 portraits compiled by Queen Victoria, 1859–1861 by John Jabez Edwin Mayall, Camille Silvy, Frances Day and William Bambridge
Portfolio of 54 portraits compiled by Queen Victoria, 1859–1861 by John Jabez Edwin Mayall, Camille Silvy, Frances Day and William Bambridge
Portfolio of 54 portraits compiled by Queen Victoria, 1859–1861 by John Jabez Edwin Mayall, Camille Silvy, Frances Day and William Bambridge
Portfolio of 54 portraits compiled by Queen Victoria, 1859–1861 by John Jabez Edwin Mayall, Camille Silvy, Frances Day and William Bambridge

Queen of cartes

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour, 2019

Joanna Gilmour discusses the role of the carte de visite in portraiture’s democratisation, and its harnessing by Victoria, the world’s first media monarch.

Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill

Carte-o-mania!

Previous exhibition, 2018

Drawn from the NPG’s burgeoning collection of cartes de visite, Carte-o-mania! celebrates the wit, style and substance of the pocket-sized portraits that were taken and collected like crazy in post-goldrush Australia.

The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery

The Gallery

Explore portraiture and come face to face with Australian identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.