Olga de Meyer

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Drawing of Olga de Meyer by John Singer Sargent, 1907

Olga, the Baroness de Meyer (8 August 1871 – 1930/1931) was a British-born artists' model, socialite, patron of the arts, writer, and fashion figure of the early 20th century.[1] She was best known as the wife of photographer Adolph de Meyer and was rumoured to be the natural daughter of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom. After 1916 she preferred to be known as Mahrah de Meyer.


Portrait of Donna Olga Caracciolo dei Duchi di Castelluccio by Jacques-Emile Blanche, 1889

Of Portuguese, Italian, French, and American descent, she was born Donna Maria Beatrice Olga Alberta Caracciolo in London, England. Her father was Neapolitan nobleman Gennaro Caracciolo Pinelli, Duke Caracciolo (1849–?), eldest son of the 4th Duke of Castelluccio, while her mother was the former Marie Blanche Sampayo (1849–1890), a daughter of Antoine François Oscar Sampayo, a French diplomat who served as that country's minister to Portugal, and his American wife, Virginia Timberlake.[2][3][4][5][6][7] Her great-grandmother Margaret O'Neill Eaton was the central figure in the Petticoat affair, a scandal that plagued President Andrew Jackson.[4] Another great-grandparent was a Marshal of France, Count Auguste Regnaud de Saint-Jean d'Angély.[8][9]

To many individuals who observed the arc of Olga's early life the most distinguished familial connection was her relationship with Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales and later King Edward VII. Though officially her godfather, the British royal was known to be one of Blanche Caracciolo's lovers and, consequently, suspected of being her daughter's actual father. Most stories related about Olga's youth describe her as illegitimate, though surely this means her legal father, the duke, was not her biological father. According to French historian Philippe Jullian, the British king believed that Olga was his child and therefore went to great lengths to ensure that she and her mother had sufficient material comforts.[10][11] Other potential fathers have been identified, however. The strongest candidate to many was Stanislaus Augustus, 3rd Prince Poniatowski and 3rd Prince of Monte Rotondo (1835–1908), a married former equerry of Napoleon III, whom Olga reportedly resembled and with whom the newlywed Duchess Caracciolo reportedly eloped on 1 September 1869, the very day her arranged marriage with the duke took place.[3][8][12][13][14]

The duke and duchess separated soon after Olga's birth, and the child spent her youth in Dieppe, France, at a house called Villa Olga, where she lived with her mother and maternal grandmother. (Since the duchess's father-in-law, the Duke of Castelluccio, was still living, she used the title Duchess Caracciolo.)

In 1916 Olga de Meyer took the forename Mahrah upon the advice of an astrologer.


Olga Caracciolo was married to:

Among her affairs was one with Princess (Edmond) de Polignac, a Singer sewing machine heiress and arts patron, in the years 1901–05.

Muse and Writer[edit]

Known for "her elusive combination of childlike innocence and soigné charm" and described as "tall and slender, with Venetian red hair", Olga de Meyer was muse and model to many artists, among them Jacques-Émile Blanche, James McNeill Whistler, James Jebusa Shannon, Giovanni Boldini, Walter Sickert, John Singer Sargent, and Paul César Helleu.[20][21][22] Another of her artist admirers was Charles Conder, who was infatuated by Olga Caracciolo and painted her portrait; Aubrey Beardsley was part of her youthful circle as well.[21] Olga de Meyer also inspired characters in novels by Elinor Glyn and Ada Leverson.

Of Olga's beauty, British novelist George Moore was unimpressed. As he commented to an admiring artist friend, "By Jove, you're all after the girl, a fine Mélisande for the stage, with her beautiful hair down to her heels. She's paintable, I admit, but as to one's daily use, I should rather have the mother than the child. Too slender for me ... you know my tastes."[23]

She worked briefly as a society columnist for La Galoise, a Paris newspaper, in the 1890s. As Mahrah de Meyer, a name she adopted in 1916, she wrote one novel, the aubiographical Nadine Narska (Wilmarth Publishing, 1916). The New York Times condemned the novel as "morbid, exaggerated, ... [and] guilty of many carelessly written sentences",[24][25] while The Dial called de Meyer's book "a miscellaneous mixture of paganism, diluted Nietzsche, worldly morals, and the doctrine of reincarnation".

One of de Meyer's short stories, Clothes and Treachery, was made into The Devil's Pass Key, a 1919 silent movie by director Erich von Stroheim.[26]


Known as the "woman [amateur fencing] champion of Europe", Baroness de Meyer competed at tournaments in Europe and the United States in the early 1900s. At the Colony Club in New York City on 6 January 1913, she participated in an exhibition match with California champion fencer Sibyl Marston.[27][28][29]


An observer wrote, "Nervous, drugged, surrounded by ambiguous friends and accompanied by a too-conspicuous husband, Olga had become frankly spiteful. Her scandal-mongering had eliminated the last of her respectable friends, and people visited her only because they could be sure to find a pipe of opium or a sniff of cocaine."[23]

Olga de Meyer died of a heart attack in detoxification clinic in Austria in 1930 or 1931.[24][30]


  1. ^ Her death year appears to be in doubt. Some sources claim circa 1930, others 1930 or 1931, while still another states she died at age 59, which gives a span of time between August 1930 and August 1931.
  2. ^ Annuario della nobiltà italiana (1899), page 263
  3. ^ a b Simona Pakenham, Sixty Miles from England: The English at Dieppe, 1814–1914 (Macmillan, 1967), page 123
  4. ^ a b Samuel Gordon Heiskell and John Sevier, Andrew Jackson and Early Tennessee History (Ambrose Printing Company, 1921), pages 325–326
  5. ^ According to an 1889 letter written by one of Virginia Sampayo's schoolmates, a Mrs Lee, Virginia was engaged in her youth to Barton Key, son of Francis Scott Key. She was also known as "a brilliant woman in mind, appearance, and accomplishments ... in spite of her want of veracity. ... She always changes her history and gets coarser as she grows older. I suppose she may need money, or craves notoriety ..." Extract from John Fiske, Essays, Historical, and Literary, Volume 1 (The Macmillan Company, 1902), pages 293–294
  6. ^ The Sampayos married in London on 28 January 1849, when he was the former secretary of the legation of the French mission to the United States; on the marriage license his name is given as Anthony Sampayo. Information on marriage published on page 94 of National Intelligencer & Washington Advertiser Newspaper Abstracts, 1849, Volume 23 (Heritage Books, 2007)
  7. ^ In a London newspaper in July 1903, Olga de Meyer placed the following advertisement: "The Baroness de Meyer highly recommends her cousin, Mlle. de Sampago [sic], as ladies' companion, chaperon, or traveling companion. Understands art needlework." Quoted in "Some Tea Table Confidences", The New York Times, 2 August 1903
  8. ^ a b John Rothenstein and Campbell Dodgson, The Life and Death of Conder (Dent, 1938), page 115
  9. ^ Denys Sutton, Walter Sickert: A Biography, (Joseph, 1976), page 41
  10. ^ Philippe Jullian, Edward and the Edwardians (Viking Press, 1967)
  11. ^ Though modern sources have questioned whether Olga de Meyer attended the coronation of her putative father, an eyewitness newspaper report of the day confirms her presence, which was described as "conspicuous". According to an article entitled "Coronation of King Edward VII: Splendid Scene in Westminster Abbey", The New York Times, 10 August 1902, Olga sat in the front row of the King's Box at Westminster Abbey during the coronation, along with several women who were intimate friends of the new monarch, among them Mary Cornwallis-West, Minnie Paget, and the king's mistress Alice Keppel.
  12. ^ Catherine Van Casselaer, Lot's Wife: Lesbian Paris, 1890–1914 (Janus Press, 1986), page 137
  13. ^ Micheal de Cossart, The Food of Love: Princess Edmond de Polignac (1865–1943) and Her Salon (Hamish Hamilton, 1978), page 95
  14. ^ Jacques-Émile Blanche, La pêche aux souvenirs (Flammarion, 1949), page 209
  15. ^ British marriage records available through Freebmd.rootsweb.com state the marriage of Maria Beatrice Olga Brancaccio, Princess de Moavero, and Baron Adolphus Edward Sigismond von Meyer.
  16. ^ "History of Art: Adolf de Meyer". All-art.org. Retrieved 28 April 2013. 
  17. ^ Lesbian identification cited in Philip Hoare, Noel Coward: A Biography, (University of Chicago Press, 1998), page 32.
  18. ^ Diana Souhami, Mrs Keppel and her daughter (London, 1996) 230.
  19. ^ Trefusis-de Meyer liaison cited in Henriette Sharpe, A Solitary Woman: A Life of Violet Trefusis (Constable, 1981.
  20. ^ "Teacup Tattle", The New York Times, 16 August 1903
  21. ^ a b Ann Galbally, Charles Conder: The Last Bohemian (Melbourne University Press, 2003), pages 187–188.
  22. ^ Natasha (15 August 2002). "Jacques-Emile Blanche's Portrait of Donna Olga Caracciolo dei Duchi di Castelluccio". Jssgallery.org. Retrieved 28 April 2013. 
  23. ^ a b Philippe Juillian and Robert Brandau, De Meyer, (Knopf, 1976).
  24. ^ a b Nadine Narska – Mahrah De Meyer – Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved 28 April 2013. 
  25. ^ "Latest Works of Fiction", The New York Times, 20 May 1917
  26. ^ Richard Koszarski, The Man You Love To Hate (Oxford University Press, 1983).
  27. ^ "Women Fencers Met at the Colony Club", The New York Times, 7 January 1913
  28. ^ "Women May Fence Again", The New York Times, 12 January 1913.
  29. ^ John McReynolds/Record Correspondent (2 July 2006). "Inheriting a piece of history". Lompocrecord.com. Retrieved 28 April 2013. 
  30. ^ Death from heart attack and location of death cited in Ann Galbally's Charles Conder: The Last Bohemian (Melbourne University Press, 2003), page 247.


  • Profile of Adolf de Meyer, broadway.cas.sc.edu
  • Meyer, A. de. Of Passions and Tenderness: Portraits of Olga by Baron de Meyer. Marina del Rey: Graystone Books, 1992

External links[edit]