Adolf Meyer Watson,
later Baron Adolf de Meyer (1868-1949),
"after a picture"

Son of a Jewish father and a Scottish mother, Adolph Edward Sigismund Meyer Watson was born and brought up in Paris and educated in Dresden.

In the 1890s he settled in London where he moved in the circle of aristocrats and socialites. Soon after marrying in 1899 Olga Alberta Caraccio, a goddaughter of King Edward VII (and reputedly also the King’s illegitimate child), he received the title of baron from the King of Saxony as a favour to the new king of England. By 1897 Adolf Meyer Watson was already known in international circles for his aesthetic photographs, his first major patron in England being Lady de Grey, later Marchioness of Ripon (seen at the Ball as Cleopatra).

While in London de Meyer came under influence of Whistler and the Aesthetic Movement and began to experiment with soft-focus lenses and back-lighting. His exquisite images were eventually shown in 1912 at the prestigious photographic gallery “291”, which was established in New York by Alfred Stieglitz, the promoter of artistic photography and himself a pioneering artist. Moreover, Stieglitz published de Meyer’s pictures in the October 1912 issue of his influential magazine Camera Work and thus introduced him to American and international market.

This proved to be very helpful when de Meyer and his wife emigrated to the United States in 1914, after he was accused in England of being a German spy. He was among the first photographers who took up professionally the world of fashion and contributed profoundly to leading fashion magazines of the day – namely Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar – although along the way he was considered a “dandyish, opinionated [and] dictatorial photographer.”

For the Ball, Meyer Watson costumed himself, in a painterly fashion, ‘after a picture’. For this he wears a grey satin tunic which has satin ribbons at the waist and, which, along with his sash and gloves, is elaborately embroidered in steel. He wears an enormous card collar and a mock order hanging on a ribbon around his neck. To the Ball, although not seen here, he also wore a black satin cloak and finished his parody with a large hat with feathers.

This image was made in the photographer’s tent at the Ball.

Click on image to enlarge
copyright V&A. Lady Ashburton 1897V&A Lafayette Archive
Negative number: L1328


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All text copyright © Russell Harris 2011