I have come across this photographer many times now since I’ve buried myself neck-deep into vintage photography. The images he created in the first half of the 20th Century are soft, elegant and feminine – and I personally love them!
Adolph de Meyer was reportedly born in Paris on the 1st of September 1868, the son of a German Jewish father and Scottish mother—Adolphus Louis Meyer and his wife, the former Adele Watson. He was educated in Dresden and in 1893 he joined the Royal Photographic Society and moved to London in 1895.
He used the surnames Meyer, von Meyer, de Meyer, de Meyer-Watson, and Meyer-Watson at various times in his life. From 1897 he was known as Baron Adolph Edward Sigismond de Meyer, though some contemporary sources list him as Baron Adolph von Meyer and Baron Adolph de Meyer-Watson. Where he got his title ‘Baron’ from is uncertain as some sources claim it had been granted in 1897 by Frederick Augustus III of Saxony, others claim he inherited it from his grandfather in the 1890’s or even state that there is no evidence of this nobiliary creation whatsoever.
On 25 July 1899 de Meyer married Donna Olga Caracciolo, an Italian noblewoman who had been divorced earlier that year from Nobile Marino Brancaccio; she was a goddaughter of Edward VII. The couple reportedly met in 1897, at the home of a member of the Sassoon banking family, and Olga would be the subject of many of her husband’s photographs. The de Meyers’ marriage was one of marriage of convenience rather than romantic love, since the groom was homosexual and the bride was bisexual or lesbian. As Baron de Meyer wrote in an unpublished autobiographical novel, before they wed, he explained to Olga “the real meaning of love shorn of any kind of sensuality”.
On the outbreak of World War I, the de Meyers moved to New York City on the advise of an astrologer, where he became a photographer for Vogue from 1913–21, and for Vanity Fair. In 1922 de Meyer accepted an offer to become the Harper’s Bazaar chief photographer in Paris, spending the next 16 years there. After the death of his wife in 1930/31, Baron de Meyer became romantically involved with a young German, Ernest Frohlich (born circa 1914), whom he hired as his chauffeur and later adopted as his son.
On the eve of World War II in 1938, de Meyer returned to the United States, and found that he was a relic in the face of the rising modernism of his art. He died in Los Angeles on the 6th of January 1949, his death being registered as ‘Gayne Adolphus Demeyer, writer (retired)’.
Today, few of his prints survive, most having been destroyed during World War II. He will be remembered for his elegant photographic portraits in the early 20th century, many of which depicted celebrities such as Mary Pickford, Rita Lydig, Luisa Casati, Billie Burke, Irene Castle, John Barrymore, Lillian Gish, Ruth St. Denis, King George V of the United Kingdom, and Queen Mary.
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