German portrait artist Joseph Karl Stieler was born in Mainz on 1 November 1781, to a family of engravers, punch-cutters and die-makers. From 1820-1855, Stieler worked as a Royal court painter for the Bavarian Kings. Known for his neo-classical portraits, especially those of the Gallery of Beauties at Nymphenburg Palace, Munich; he established his career painting miniatures, which were well sought after. Some of his portraits include: Ludwig von Beethoven, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Amalia of Greece, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, Johann Ludwig Tieck, and Alexander von Humboldt. In 1847 he painted the portrait of Lola Montez. Stieler retired in 1855 to live at his country home in Tegernsee. He died in Munich three years later, on 9 April, 1858.
Lola Montez (1818-1861), was a famous dancer and courtesan, born in Limerick, Ireland, and christened Maria Dolores Eliza Rosanna, daughter of Ensign Edward Gilbert and his 14-year-old wife who claimed descent from Spanish nobility. At 19 years of age, Lola married an aged judge. Soon after, she eloped with Lieutenant Thomas James whom she married in Ireland on 23 July 1837. In 1839 she went to Simla, India, with her husband, but their marriage floundered as Thomas had eloped with another woman. When Lola returned to England in 1842, her estranged husband won a judicial separation for their marriage on the grounds of “her shipboard adultery”rather than his own infidelities.
Lola later moved to Spain and trained as a dancer, calling herself Donna Lola Montez. Her début was performed before royalty at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, on 3 June 1843. Thereafter, she performed throughout Europe, where many of the audience found her acts suggestive and unsavoury through the notoriety of her unofficial and adulterous affairs with artists Franz Liszt and Alexandre Dumas.
By 1845, the ageing King Ludwig I of Bavaria fell in love with Lola, buying a large house and settling an annuity on her. Two years later, he made her Countess Marie von Landsfeld; but the Bavarian aristocracy and middle class refused to acknowledge her stature. Under mounting pressure for her removal, both she and Ludwig gave up the Crown. Lola then moved to Switzerland. After another failed marriage, Lola returned to the stage, touring Europe and later in America, during the gold-rush years. It was here that she gave her first performance of her notorious ‘Spider Dance‘.
In May 1855 Lola appointed a young actor as her manager and in the following month they sailed for Sydney, Australia where they opened at the Royal Victoria Theatre. One month later, they opened at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne. Attendance to each performance diminished, so she decided to perform her infamous ‘Spider Dance’. Public calls for a cease and arrest to this performance divided society and from November 1855 to the following January in 1856, she played to sell out performances in Adelaide and back in Sydney.
With a return back to Victoria and to the goldrush field town of Ballarat in February 1856, Montez was greeted by packed houses for each performance. She invited miners to shower nuggets at her feet as she danced. The local newspaper The Ballarat Times attacked her notoriety; and she retaliated by publicly horse-whipping the editor, Henry Seekamp, at the United States Hotel.
Two months later, Montez performed in other Victorian goldfield towns including Bendigo and Castlemaine. With her stage partner and manager, they sailed for San Francisco. On the night of 8 July, near the Fijian islands, he was lost overboard and no official investigation seems to have followed.
Rapidly ageing, Lola failed in her attempts at a theatrical comeback in various American cities. She arranged in 1857 to deliver a series of moral lectures in both the UK and USA written by Rev. Charles Chauncy Burr. Although seemingly genuine in her repentance, she was also showing the side effects of syphilis and her body began to waste away.
Lola Montez died on 17 January, 1861 at the age of 42 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn.
- “Whatever Lola Wants” is a popular song, sometimes rendered as “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets” from the 1955 musical Damn Yankees, (sung by lead actress Gwen Verdon), and refers to her role in theater performances during the San Francisco gold rush.
- An entire theater production entitled “Lola Montez” was performed in Australia from 1959. It starred Mary Preston in the role of Lola and featured other stage actors from the Elizabethan Theatre Trust. The plot revolved around her stage performance in the Ballarat gold rush town in1855. Costumes and settings were by Hermia Boyd.