Hon Mrs Reginald Fitzwilliam,
née Edith Isabella Georgina Lane Fox
"…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 than 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 their 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.

February 1897 saw the opening of the woman playwright Risden Home’s Nelson’s Enchantress at London’s Avenue Theatre (now the Playhouse) with Lady Hamilton played by the great actress, Mrs Patrick Campbell and Johnson Forbes-Robinson as Nelson. Mrs Fitzwilliam’s choice of this polyandrous 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 Lafayette studio on different days for their portraits.

On Lady Hamilton’s Attitudes:

“She lets her hair down, and with a few scarves and shawls she expressed such variety of such wonderful poses, gestures and expressions, that one believes oneself to be dreaming.”

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Travels, Caserta, 16 March 1787)

“Dazu löst sie ihre Haare auf, nimmt ein paar Schals und macht eine Abwechslung von Stellungen, Gebärden, Mienen und so weiter, dass man zuletzt wirklich meint, man träume.”

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italienische Reise, Caserta, den 16 März 1787)


Click on image to enlarge
copyright V&A. Lady Ashburton 1897V&A Lafayette Archive
Negative number: L1497

Mrs Patrick Campbell and Johnson Forbes-Robinson in Risden Home's Nelson's Enchantress


List of Sitters
All text copyright © Russell Harris 2011