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Adolph de Meyer - Gifted Gallery

Baron Adolph de Meyer, born 1 September 1868, was a photographer famed for his photographic portraits in the early 20th century. He was also the first official fashion photographer for the American magazine Vogue, appointed to that position in 1913.

Reportedly born in Paris and educated in Dresden, de Meyer was the son of a German Jewish father and Scottish mother—Adolphus Louis Meyer and his wife, the former Adele Watson. He used the surnames Meyer, von Meyer, de Meyer, de Meyer-Watson, and Meyer-Watson at various times in his life.

In 1893, he joined the Royal Photographic Society and moved to London in 1895, where by 1899 his Pictorialist photographs had earned him membership in the breakaway photo-secessionist group the Linked Ring, a society of Pictorialist photographers in Britain.

From 1898 to 1913, de Meyer lived in fashionable Cadogan Gardens, London. Between 1903 to 1907, his work was published in Alfred Stieglitz's quarterly Camera Work.

On 25 July 1899, at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street, Cadogan Square in London, England, de Meyer married Donna Olga Caracciolo, an Italian noblewoman who had been divorced earlier that year from Marino Brancaccio; some said she was a goddaughter of Edward VII. The couple reportedly met in 1897, at the home of a member of the Sassoon family, and Olga would be the subject of many of her husband's photographs.

Donna Olga Caracciolo by de Meyer

The de Meyers' marriage was one of convenience rather than romantic love because 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 As Baron de Meyer wrote in an unpublished autobiographical novel, before they wed, he explained to Olga "the real meaning of love shorn of any kind of sensuality". He continued by observing, "Marriage based too much on love and unrestrained passion has rarely a chance to be lasting, whilst perfect understanding and companionship, on the contrary, generally make the most durable union."

The two were nearly inseparable. By all accounts, theirs was a marriage of mutual admiration as well as convenience

They spent summers in Venice and Constantinople, winters in St. Moritz, and visited Greece, Spain, Morocco, Tangier, and Egypt. Their journeys together began in the spring of 1900, when the budding photographer and his new bride spent their honeymoon in Asia, visiting Hong Kong and Japan together, with de Meyer continuing on to India alone. Upon returning to London, de Meyer made a series of still lifes of flowers that reveal the continued influence of Japanese aesthetics on his mature work.

In 1912 he photographed Vaslav Nijinsky in Paris for the first time. de Meyer would later become the preeminent photographer of Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes. Cecil Beaton dubbed him "the Debussy of photography".

With his wife Olga, he joined the elegant set surrounding the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, Olga’s godfather. They entertained lavishly, including concerts and small fancy-dress balls, which gave de Meyer a chance to devise marvellous costumes for Olga. Likely inspired by the de Meyers’ involvement with the Ballets Russes and time spent at their villa on the Bosporus.

On the outbreak of World War I, the de Meyers moved to New York City. They would later in 1916 take the new names of Mahrah and Gayne on the advice of an astrologer. de Meyer became a photographer for Vogue in 1913 and became Vogue's first full-time photographer in 1914, producing fashion layouts and photographing the Beau Monde for the magazine, alongside work for Vanity Fair, until 1921.

In 1922, de Meyer accepted an offer to become the chief photographer for Harper's Bazaar which allowed him to return Paris, spending the next 16 years there.


In 1923 and 1927 de Meyer photographed striking campaigns for Elizabeth Arden.


Although de Meyer had set a standard for elegance and style, his Pictorialist-inspired fashion photographs were seen as outmoded by the 1930s, and he was forced to leave Harper's Bazaar in 1932.

After the death of his wife in 1931, Baron de Meyer became romantically involved with a young German, Ernest Frohlich, whom he hired as his chauffeur and later adopted as his son. The latter went by the name Baron Ernest Frohlich de Meyer.

On the eve of World War II in 1938, de Meyer returned to the United States. Today, few of his prints survive, most having been destroyed during World War II but some 52 photographs of Olga, packed by Ernest, came to light in 1988 and were published in 1992.

Baron Adolf de Meyer by Gertrude Ksebier
Adolph de Meyer by Gertrude Ksebier

He died in Los Angeles on the anniversary of his wife's death, 6 January 1946, he being registered as 'Gayne Adolphus Demeyer, writer (retired)', and was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, Los Angeles, California.

Adolph de Meyer was a dedicated and skilled pioneer in the use of the autochrome process of colour photography. A master of fashion photography and society portraiture, he captured an elegant and sophisticated world which vanished within the decimation of World War II.



Reading Recommendations & Content Considerations

The Photographs of

Baron Adolph de Meyer


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