The Lola Montez Painting at Nymphenburg is one of the 30 or so ‘Beauties’ that King Ludwig commissioned his artist Stieler to paint. If you watch the YouTube video, you will notice that the majority of the women are wearing rich looking dresses showing their bare shoulders, arms and some cleavage at least as well as pearls and other jewellery. It appears to have been Stieler’s style but Lola Montez is dowdy by comparison. Her plain black dress is buttoned to the neck and she only has a little brooch resembling a cross.
If I knew nothing about these women and was given a choice of any one purely based on the paintings, I wouldn’t choose Lola. She looks uninteresting compared to most of the others and not at all like her character. I think this was the King’s intention as he wanted to recreate her as a moral person with the past behind her. Only a few months earlier, she’d been told to leave Baden-Baden because of her licentious behaviour. It’s said she demonstrated her agility by putting her leg on a man’s shoulder. She probably wasn’t wearing any underwear at the time either.
According to Bruce Seymour, whose work I respect most in the matter of Lola’s life story, Stieler’s original portrait of Lola didn’t please Ludwig and he ordered him to do it again. My guess is that this original was more like all the other beauties and perhaps even more revealing. It seems this first painting was lost but does it still exist underneath the present one? Artists were well known to re-use their canvas since it was expensive. There are x-ray techniques available today which could determine if another painting is still there under the paint layers.
Finally, there is a portrait of Lola by Camille Rocqueplan dated about a year earlier in Paris and now that would be more likely to be a man’s first choice. I have been privileged to be allowed to photograph the original watercolour which is kept in the research room at the Carnavalet Museum in Paris.