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Mrs Arthur Paget,
later Lady Paget
(d 1919)
née Mary (Minnie) Stevens

as Cleopatra

The daughter of the wealthy American hotelier, Paran Stevens, who died in 1872 leaving his daughters the fantastic sum of ten million dollars, six years later she married Hon Arthur Paget, a soldier, diplomat and relative of the Marquis of Anglesey.

She was one of a small coterie of American heiresses in the Prince of Wales's set and as a fabulously wealthy member of London society she threw herself with gusto into charitable work - one of the few outlets for the energies of society ladies at the time. Her greatest success was The Masque of Peace and War organised at the Haymarket Theatre in London in February 1900, which raised £7,000 for the widows and orphans of the Boer War. The Lafayette Studio also photographed this event.

For the Ball, Mrs Paget - as one of the three Cleopatras present - commissioned one of the most spectacular and certainly the most expensive costumes from Worth of Paris at a reputed cost of over $6,000. The train is of black crêpe de chine, embroidered with gold scarabs. The bodice, encrusted with gold and diamonds, is held up on the shoulders with straps of large emeralds and diamonds. The square headdress is made of cloth of gold with striped black and gold sphinx-like side pieces studded with diamonds, and encrusted with diamonds.

Crowning her is an ibis headdress, with outstretched wings of diamonds and sapphires. The remainder of the headdress is of uncut rubies and emeralds, all real stones from her own immense collection, surmounted by the jewelled crown of Egypt. She wears round her neck row upon row of necklaces of various gems, reaching to the waist, and a jewelled hem-length girdle. A small diamond asp nestling on her right shoulder give a hint of Cleopatra's doom. The small Ottoman wedding coins attached to her wrist- and arm-bands are an anachronism.

With such riches, her closeness to the Prince of Wales and her extravagant literary salons, Mrs Paget had aroused the resentment of some other society ladies. However when she entered the Ball followed by a "negro servant" holding a fan of ostrich feathers over her head, other guests "gasped with wonder and astonishment."

This image was made at the Ball, but not used in the Album which includes a portrait in costume by the photographer J Thomson of Grosvenor Street which captures Mrs Paget's delicate waist more clearly as well showing to better effect the gold scarab motif on her train.

Pietose vi brama 
il mesto mio core,
ch'ogn'ora vi chiama
l'amato suo ben.
Have pity on
my sad heart
That at every hour calls
For its beloved
George Frideric Handel, Giulio Caesare, Act II, Scene 1


Negative number: V&A L1400a, 03-07-1897