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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Baron Adolph de Meyer

Born: Demeyer Watson 
Born: Meyer-Watson 
Other: Adolf de Meyer 
Other: Adolf Demeyer 
Other: Adolf Gayne de Meyer 
Other: Baron Adolf de Meyer 
Other: Baron Adophe de Meyer 
Other: Baron de Meyer 
Other: The Baron 
Dates:  1868 - 1946, 6 January
Born:  France, Paris
Died:  US, CA, Los Angeles
Active:  England / US
Fashion photographer. He also took a lot of portraits of his wife Olga.
The Baron was famous for making up his own history. In the book A Singular Elegance: The Photographs of Baron Adolph De Meyer (Chronicle Books, San Francisco in association with International Center of Photography, New York: 1994) we learn a few facts:
"De Meyer was born around 1868; it seems likely that his parents were Adele Watson and Adolphus Meyer, and (although he spent some of his early years in Paris) he was educated in Germany. He changed the spelling and arrangement of his name frequently during the 1890‘s; exhibition catalogues list him variously as "Adolf" or "Adolph," "Meyer" or "Meyer-Watson" and add or delete a "von" - his identity, even in this initial period, is nebulous at best." (p.15)
He was a flamboyant character and the facts found on the Internet and in published sources are frequently incorrect and great care needs to be taken. He encouraged stories and myths and that gave him a sense of mystery that was ideal for the fashionable society that he inhabited. A forthcoming book by Alexandra Anderson-Spivy will address these issues.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Baron Adolph de Meyer
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

Baron De Meyer is seen by many as the founder of fashion photography. In 1899 he married Olga Caracciolo, a professional beauty who introduced him to the highest levels of society. Once inside these glittering social circles, de Meyer was able to photograph many of the celebrities he met. His delicate, impressionistic idiom is characteristic of the photographic style most fashionable at the turn of the century. His images were published in Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work in 1908, and he later worked for American Vogue and its rival magazine Harper’s Bazaar. 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

Approved biography for Baron Adolph de Meyer
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

De Meyer’s birthplace (Paris or Germany), nationality, and some other biographical facts are uncertain, because he told different stories about his background throughout his life. Even his name changed; Adolph was sometimes Adolf, he became Baron de Meyer in about 1898, and he changed his first name to Gayne in 1916 (on the advice of an astrologer). Residing variously in Dresden, London, Paris, and New York, de Meyer led the life of a cosmopolitan aristocrat and aesthete. Most of his work is softly focused and refined, be it still lifes, fashion, dance, or portrait work.
De Meyer apparently spent his childhood in Paris and Germany. He began exhibiting creative photographs in 1894 in New York, London, and Paris and two years later moved to London from Dresden. Around 1896, he married Olga Caracciolo, the goddaughter of the Prince of Wales, Edward VII, which catapulted him into the British aristocracy. Two years later, he joined both the conservative Royal Photographic Society and the Linked Ring Brotherhood, a more artistically advanced group of photographers.
In 1903, de Meyer visited the United States and spent time in the studio of Gertrude Käsebier. In 1909, now a member of the Photo-Secession, he presented an exhibition of his Autochromes (color transparencies on glass) and monochromatic prints at the group’s Little Galleries, where he also had a solo show two years later. Alfred Stieglitz was so enthralled with his work that he presented it in Camera Work in 1908 and 1912, the latter comprising a full issue of fourteen photogravures.
In 1913, a year after he moved to New York, Vogue reproduced a sensitive image by de Meyer of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, which subsequently led Condé Nast to hire him as the magazine’s first full-time fashion photographer. De Meyer’s work over the next half dozen transformed the field, with graceful poses, elegant props, soft-focus effects, and contra-jour lighting. Then, in 1921, William Randolph Hearst lured him to Paris and Harper’s Bazaar. There, for the next decade, de Meyer was highly successful and visible as the magazine’s leading fashion writer, stylist, and photographer, even dabbling in interior decoration and clothing design.
De Meyer’s life changed significantly in the early 1930s, when his wife died and he lost his contract at Harper’s, prompting him to travel extensively, become chemically dependent, and experiment sexually. Threatened by the advance of the Nazis in the late 1930, de Meyer sold off his possessions in Paris, Vienna, and Venice, and resettled in Hollywood, where he wrote novels and other material, none of which was ever published. He died in Los Angeles on January 6, 1946, of coronary thrombosis. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

Biography provided by Focal Press 
A pictorialist and member of the Linked Ring (1903). His photographs were exhibited by Stieglitz at 291. In 1911, the de Meyers promoted Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe in their first London appearance and de Meyer made his famous photographs of Nijinsky. From 1914 to 1935 he lived in America where he became the top fashion photographer. Also known for his portraits of celebrities for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar
(Author: Robert Hirsch - Independent scholar and writer) 
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 

Further research

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Frederick Hollyer
Adolf de Meyer 
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.

Visual indexes

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Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.106 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.139 
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.214 [Includes a well written short biography on Baron Adolph de Meyer with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Baron Adolph de Meyer.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.123-124 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.245 
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.127, 129 
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Baron Adolph de Meyer are included in this classic history.] 
• Sobieszek, Robert A. and Deborah Irmas 1994 the camera i: Photographic Self-Portraits (Los Angeles: LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art) p.214, Plates 17, 26 [When the Audrey and Sydney Irmas collection was donated to LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1992 the museum gained a remarkable collection of self portraits of notable photographers. If you need a portrait of Baron Adolph de Meyer this is a useful starting point.] 
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.78 [Analyzes a single photograph by Baron Adolph de Meyer.] 
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