The beautiful, statuesque-shaped Lady Colin Campbell was one of the most fascinating and most dubious women in England in the mid-1880s.
The American novelist Gertrude Atherton related to her as “one of the most beautiful women I have even seen; quite six feet tall but perfectly made, poised, and balanced; she reminded me of a spirited clean limbed race horse. Her eyes and hair were black, her skin of a luminous ivory hue; she had no color save her lips and used no make-up. Unexpectedly, she had a great deal of animation, and a keen satiric, brilliant, mind.”
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Portrait painters sought her out. James McNeill Whistler painted her full-length portrait in a white gown "Harmony in White and Ivory" and even exhibited it, but it was incomplete as the artist couldn't get enough sessions with Lady Colin Campbell after her divorce trial and the canvas appeared to be destroyed.
Lady Colin had been painted by Giovanni Boldini, the portrait hung in her drawing room. In her will she left the canvas to the National Portrait Gallery.
In 1902, Sir Edward Burne-Jones attempted to paint Lady Colin, but she was showing signs of the painful progressive paralysis and the sittings exhausted her.
Irish-born Gertrude Elizabeth Blood (Dublin, 1857) was an author, columnist, playwright, and socialite. She met Lord Colin Campbell, the second son of the 8th Duke of Argyll in 1853 and became engaged within 3 days. Lord Colin had postponed the wedding to times due to his health issues. Gertrude's father suspected him to have syphilis, and the Duke admonished Gertrude's mother that his playboy son was not suited to be a husband and that he was a frequent guest in the bedrooms of Argyll’s maids. But Gertrude's ambitious mother insisted and the wedding followed in 1881. (As it turned out, Lord Colin had syphilis and infected his wife. She died in 1911, at the age of 53 suffering of rheumatoid arthritis, tied to the wheelchair the several last years. Lord Colin Campbell, who was the Member of Parliament for Argyllshire from 1878, had to resign in 1885 due to the disgrace of the divorce case and vanished in Bombay, India. In 1895, he died there of alcohol and venereal disease.)
Soon enough after the wedding, Lady Colin Campbell learned about her husband's infidelities and in return enjoyed herself with her lovers. Three years later she left her husband and petitioned for a legal separation on grounds of cruelty that “would not bear printing,” as the newspapers reported, which was granted. Another two years passed, and Lady Colin Campbell petitioned for a divorce, and her husband accused her of adultery, naming four co-respondents among them the womanizing Lord Blandford, heir to the Duke of Marlborough, the fashionable surgeon Thomas Bird, General Sir William Butler, and Eyre Massey Shaw, the chief of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. After 18 days of the trial, the jury denied a divorce, and Lady Colin was left with her court-ordered separation allowance.
The trial was “the filthiest case ever reported.” And the newspapers exploited it, boosting their circulation and producing numerous reports about the personalities involved. The editor of the Pall Mall Gazette W.T.Stead stated that the Morning Chronicle gave the trial only 1,258 fewer words than were in the entire New Testament. (Stanley Weintraub "SHAW’S GODDESS:LADY COLIN CAMPBELL").
"With the trial over, Gertrude set about reshaping her life. She had always been fond of writing and turned easily to journalism, writing columns on art and travel, fashion, music and the theatre, sport and fishing - one of her favourite pastimes. Her other talents included painting, riding, cycling, swimming, a fine singing voice, an excellent command of French and Italian (which she had spoken long before being introduced to English),... and was recognised as an expert fencer. She edited the Ladies Field and contributed regularly to the columns of the Saturday Review and the Pall Mall Gazette under the pseudonyms "Véra Tsaritsyn", "G. E. Brunefille" and "Q.E.D". Although ostracised by the very society of which she had longed to be part... her vivaciousness, liberal outlook, creativity and acerbic wit made her a welcome addition to literary and artistic circles."(Wikipedia)
She called Oscar Wilde “a great white slug" and they were not on speaking terms. Once Lady Campbell was invited to the dinner at the Criterion Restaurant and happened to be placed next to Oscar Wilde who protested and was moved farther apart.
She was regarded as eccentric and Augustus Hare records that she "wore a live snake around her throat in hot weather because it keeps one's neck so cool".
Near the end of her life, Lady Campbell confessed to Mrs. Atherton that she had not looked
into a mirror for four years.
The Campbell Divorce Suit
NY Times Dec 3, 1886
Some Damaging Testimony against Lady Colin.
London, Dec.2 - In the Campbell divorce case today the defense first called Mark Bouverie as a witness. He testified that he saw the Duke of Marlborough and Lady Colin Campbell in August, 1882, at the Purfleet Hotel.
...Callingham, a waiter in the P.Hotel, testified that he waited in a private room upon a lady and gentleman who staid together in the house from Saturday until Monday.
...Delaroche, who was Lord Colin Campbell's indoor servant in 1882, testified that he used to announce visitors to the lady when she was in his lordship's apartment. Lady Colin told witness on no account to announce the arrival of Chief Shaw or the Duke of Marlborough in the hearing of Lord Colin Campbell.
...Once the witness saw the Duke sitting beside Lady Colin on a settee with his arm behind her, but witness could not say about or on her waist. Lady Colin arose when she saw witness and she was flurried. The Duke acted excitedly.
...After quitting Lord Colin Campbell's service witness was distressed. Lady Colin acted kindly toward him and paid his rent.
O'Neil, who was a man servant in the employ of Lord Colin Campbell in 1882, testified that once upon carrying tea to the drawing room he found the door locked and went away. Returning in a few minutes he found the door open and saw the Duke of M. and Lady C. sitting on the sofa, the cushions of which were disarranged. Witness once saw a note partially written from Lady C. arranging for a meeting at Kilburn... The Duke of M. and Chief Shaw called each twice a week during the whole period of witness's employment in the house.
The Campbell trial will last four days more. The Duke of Marlborough has been present throughout, accompanied by a secretary taking copious notes. The Duke laughs at various points, more with the air of an amused spectator than of one personally interested. Chief Shaw was present today while O'Niel as giving his evidence as to how, looking through a keyhole, he saw Shaw and Lady Campbell in a compromising position..."
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