history

Eminent Victorians: Valerie, Lady Meux.

Harmony in Pink and Grey or Portrait of Lady Meux, 1881, by Whistler. Source: Wikipedia

I first came across Lady Meux when writing my first manuscript (now languishing on my hard drive). I think I was trying to gain a more accurate idea of what ladies wore in the 1880s when Harmony in Pink and Grey popped up in my Pinterest search results. I’d never seen it before and I fell in love once I learned a bit more about the subject. Valerie, Lady Meux, despite her aristocratic demeanor, was a woman with a past. She didn’t begin life as a lady and was never accepted in the highest social circles.

When she married Sir Henry Bruce Meux, 3rd Baronet, it was said she’d once been an actress, but, while she does seem to have spent a single season on the stage, it’s thought she was actually a barmaid, banjo-player, and prostitute when she met her future husband. For some reason, it’s the banjo playing that sticks with me:

Sir Henry Meux, Lady Valerie and banjo.

Like I said, she was never fully accepted by society (or her husband’s family) but instead of sitting at home and sinking into a decline as sinful women mostly did in Victorian novels (see Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell, and about a bajillion others,) she threw lavish parties attended by the future Edward VII among others, drove around London in a high phaeton (the old timey equivalent of a sports car) drawn by zebras, and was painted by Whistler three times.

Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux by Whistler.

Sadly Whistler burnt the third painting (Lady Meux in Furs) after Lady Meux said something that pissed him off during a sitting.

So there you go: Lady Meux, Victorian sex-worker made good, artist’s muse, socialite, and banjo-player.