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Lafayette L1598b
Neg. Date: 04-05-1899

copyright V&A

Frances Evelyn (Daisy), Countess of Warwick (1861-1938) née Maynard

This image of the Countess of Warwick was made on the same day as a series of half-length portraits similar to those of Daisy where she is draped in white chiffon.

The Countess had only a few days earlier distributed the awards of the Battersea Polytechnic Women’s’ Gymnation and was most certainly not then wearing, as in this portrait, an exquisite and heavily embroidered confection which may well have come from JP Worth of Paris and her hair in the still fashionable “Jubilee Knot”, the Countess presents the ideal typified by a small group of well-bred ladies referred to as “Professional Beauties” – whom photographers and the general public deemed of extreme attractiveness and for whose photographs there was an insatiable commercial hunger.

The critic Max Beerbohm, in 1896, commented that this caste “received special attention from the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), and hostesses would move heaven and earth to have them in their rooms.”

On the evening after this portrait, the Countess’s husband was reported to have attended the quarterly convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of England. The portrait shows the Countess dressed for an occasion but not the same one as her husband would be attending.

Of the Countess’s obvious beauty, Daisy of Pless with a hint of rivalry later wrote that the Countess: “was not of a type of beauty that appealed particularly to me – being perhaps too much like my own. She had masses of blonde hair, perfect features and complexion, exquisite eyes, hands and feet…”

Known to all society as one of the “most tempestuous and most fascinating of the Prince of Wales’s great ladies” and one of the fastest women in the “fast set”, the Countess had led a carefree life until her own costume ball in 1895 when she was criticised in print for her extravagance and lack of philanthropy.

Although at first incensed by the article, she shortly became converted to socialism and it was said that “her … advocacy of the redistribution of property was backed by long experience in the redistribution of spouses.”

The Duchess of Connaught in 1904 wrote that Lady Warwick was the most complete Edwardian even though she did not maintain the tradition of discretion and “danced outside the pale.”