May 212015

Donna Maria Beatrice Olga Alberta Caracciolo

8.VIII.1871 – 1930/1931


More commonly known as the Baroness Olga de Meyer she was a British-born artists’ model, socialite, patron of the arts, writer, and fashion figure of the early 20th century.


She was best known as the wife of photographer Baron Adolph de Meyer and was rumored to be the natural daughter of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom. After 1916 she preferred to be known as Mahrah de Meyer.


Of Portuguese, French, and American descent, she was born Donna Maria Beatrice Olga Alberta Caracciolo in London, England. Daughter to Neapolitan nobleman Gennaro Caracciolo Pinelli, Duca di Caracciolo (1849-?), eldest son of the 4th Duca di Castelluccio, while her mother was the former Marie Blanche Sampaio (1849-1890), a daughter of Antoine François Oscar Sampaio, a French diplomat who served as that country’s minister to Portugal, and his American wife, Virginia Timberlake. Interestingly enough her “zest for life” seems to have come naturally, as her great-grandmother Margaret O’Neill Eaton was the central figure in the Petticoat affair, a scandal that plagued President Andrew Jackson.



To many individuals who observed the arc of Olga’s early life the most distinguished familial connection was her relationship with Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales and later King Edward VII. Though officially her godfather, the British royal was known to be one of Blanche Caracciolo’s lovers and, consequently, suspected of being her daughter’s actual father.


Most stories related about Olga’s youth describe her as illegitimate, though surely this means her legal father, the duke, was not her biological father. According to French historian Philippe Jullian, the British king believed that Olga was his child and therefore went to great lengths to ensure that she and her mother had sufficient material comforts.


Other potential fathers have been identified, however. The strongest candidate to many was Stanislaus Augustus, 3rd Prince Poniatowski and 3rd Prince of Monte Rotondo (1835-1908), a married former equerry of Napoleon III, whom Olga reportedly resembled and with whom the newlywed Duchessa di Caracciolo reportedly eloped on September 1, 1869, the very day her arranged marriage with the duke took place.


The duke and duchess separated soon after Olga’s birth, and the child spent her youth in Dieppe, France, at a house called Villa Olga, where she lived with her mother and maternal grandmother. (Since the duchess’s father-in-law, the Duca di Castelluccio, was still living, she used the title Duchessa di Caracciolo.)



Olga Caracciolo was married twice, firstly to  Nobile Marino Brancaccio (1852-1920), a Neapolitan nobleman who was a son of Carlo Brancaccio, Prince of Triggiano and Duke of Lustra. They married in Naples, Italy, on May 9, 1892 (civil) and May 11, 1892 (religious), and divorced on June 7, 1899, in Hamburg, Germany. Artist Jacques-Émile Blanche, a family friend, called it “a short and most dramatic union”.


Husband number two was Baron Adolph de Meyer (1868-1946), a celebrated artist dubbed by Cecil Beaton “the Debussy of photography.” They married on July 25, 1899 at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street, Cadogan Square, in London. This was a marriage of convenience, as the groom was homosexual and the bride was bisexual; some sources identify her as a lesbian. The de Meyers were characterized by Violet Trefusis—who counted Olga among her lovers and whose mother, Alice Keppel, was Edward VII’s best known mistress—as “Pederaste and Medisante” because, as Trefusis observed, “He looked so queer and she had such a vicious tongue.”


a de Meyer had an affair with Princess (Edmond) de Polignac, a Singer-sewing-machine heiress and arts patron, in the years 1909-14.


nown for “her elusive combination of childlike innocence and soigné charm” and described as “tall and slender, with Venetian red hair”, Olga de Meyer was muse and model to many artists, among them Jacques-Émile Blanche, James McNeill Whistler, James Jebusa Shannon, Giovanni Boldini, Walter Sickert, John Singer Sargent, and Paul César Helleu.


Another of her artist admirers was Charles Conder, who was infatuated by Olga Caracciolo and painted her portrait; Aubrey Beardsley was part of her youthful circle as well. Olga de Meyer also inspired characters in novels by Elinor Glyn and Ada Leverson.



f Olga’s beauty, British novelist George Moore was unimpressed. As he commented to an admiring artist friend, “By Jove, you’re all after the girl, a fine Mélisande for the stage, with her beautiful hair down to her heels. She’s paintable, I admit, but as to one’s daily use, I should rather have the mother than the child. Too slender for me … you know my tastes.”


She worked briefly as a society columnist for La Galoise, a Paris newspaper, in the 1890s. As Mahrah de Meyer, a name she adopted in 1916, she wrote one novel, the autobiographical Nadine Narska (Wilmarth Publishing, 1916).


he New York Times condemned the novel as “morbid, exaggerated, … [and] guilty of many carelessly written sentences”, while The Dial called de Meyer’s book “a miscellaneous mixture of paganism, diluted Nietzsche, worldly morals, and the doctrine of reincarnation”.


One of de Meyer’s short stories, Clothes and Treachery, was made into The Devil’s Pass Key, a 1919 silent movie by director Erich von Stroheim.


Known as the “woman [amateur fencing] champion of Europe”, Baroness de Meyer competed at tournaments in Europe and the United States in the early 1900s. At the Colony Club in New York City on 6 January 1913, she participated in an exhibition match with California champion fencer Sibyl Marston.


The last years of Olga de Meyer’s life were not pleasant ones. As an observer wrote, “Nervous, drugged, surrounded by ambiguous friends and

Olga de Meyer died of a heart attack in detoxification clinic in Austria in 1930 or 1931.

accompanied by a too-conspicuous husband, Olga had become frankly spiteful. Her scandal-mongering had eliminated the last of her respectable friends, and people visited her only because they could be sure to find a pipe of opium or a sniff of cocain


Olga de Meyer died of a heart attack in detoxification clinic in Austria in 1930 or 1931.

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