Hon Mrs Reginald Fitzwilliam
"...after a picture by Romney"
Mrs Fitzwilliam is seen here costumed as Lady Emma Hamilton, the married mistress of the British naval hero Horatio Nelson, personified at the Ball by her husband the Hon William Reginald Fitzwilliam. The newspapers reported that she was dressed "after a picture by Romney." Indeed she modelled herself on one of the more then 100 portraits of Lady Hamilton, the muse of the English painter George Romney (1734-1802).
Lady Hamilton had been born in very simple circumstances but was an attractive and very ambitious women who exploited her beauty and talents. In 1791 she married the British Minister in Naples and used to entertain theiir guests with her "Attitudes" - a form of animated tableau vivant. With the aid of shawls, she posed as various classical figures from Medea to Cleopatra, creating a new dance style across Europe and also the fashion for Greek-style draperies.
When news spread of her love affair with the British naval hero Horatio Nelson, her behaviour was considered scandalous and she was the subject of an unflattering and deeply crude caricature in 1801 by the famous satirist James Gillray.
The Hon Mrs Fitzwilliam's choice of character for the Ball had the virtue that it necessitated a comparatively simple dress and obviated the need to wear any significant jewellery. She was notoriously spendthrift even before her marriage, and by 1900 she and her husband were declared bankrupt.
Neither of the couple was photographed at the Ball and they visited the the Lafayette studio on different days for their portraits.
Negative number: V&A L1497, 03-07-1897