Ludwig I, King of Bavaria, 1825-1848, commissioned this portrait of Lola Montez. This lithograph, held at the Sovereign Hill Museum, is adapted from the original painting by Joseph Karl Stieler (1781 – 1858), a German portraitist, who worked mainly in the service of the Bavarian court.
Lola Montez was born Maria Eliza Dolores Rosanna Gilbert in Ireland in 1818. Her father was in the military and the family travelled to India, Scotland, London, Paris and Bath. When she was 18 years-old, Montez’s mother tried to marry her to a 60 year-old judge in India. Lola eloped with a young Lieutenant and they married in Ireland, but he soon left her for another woman. Montez then went to Spain where she learnt Spanish dancing, which enabled her to travel the world and gain access to people of power and influence, both politically and culturally.
Most notably, Montez was friends with George Sand (with whom, wearing male attire, she smoked cigars); a lover of Franz List, Alexandre Dumas and Alexandre Dujarier. She discussed matters of the state with Emperor Nicholas I of Russia and around 1845 became the lover of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Her influence on Ludwig helped the push to overthrow the conservative Jesuit-led bureaucracy, but with Europe in turmoil, Ludwig abdicated and Montez fled.
Having had her Bavarian rights annulled, Montez commenced a performance tour, taking the Spider Dance to the Californian goldfields, and then to the Victorian goldfields, where her performances and radical behaviour caused a sensation. Eventually, she returned to America, where she lived penniless for a number of years before dying alone in her early 40s, in a New York boarding house.
Text based on A Lover and A Fighter; Clare Wright on the trouble with Lola Montez, Overland 2009, p195.