The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Otto von Bismarck and Pauline Lucca

Otto von Bismarck and Pauline Lucca

When Denmark ceded the Schleswig-Holstein territories to the combined military might of Prussia and Austria in 1864, it was necessary for the two victorious countries to divide the spoils of the recent war. To ease tensions, the Prussian minister-president Otto von Bismarck met with the Austrian envoy Gustav von Blome at the spa town of Bad Gastein in the Austrian Alps. This meeting came to be known as the Gasteiner Convention.

At some point during his stay there, Bismarck encountered the opera singer Pauline Lucca and visited a photographer’s studio with her. The resulting portrait caused a scandal in Germany, so much so that Bismarck apparently had the original negative destroyed and tried to buy up all existing copies of the photograph.

Some thirty years later, the incident still held sufficient interest for the Los Angeles Times (1 December 1895) to offer ‘two discrete stories explaining how it [the photograph] happened to have been taken’. In one version, Lucca maintains that she and the German chancellor had encountered one another by chance while out walking in Berlin and had walked along together for a while. However, a throng of people had recognized them and when the crowd became too pressing they had escaped into a doorway. When they were forced further into the hallway ‘we could do nothing but knock at the nearest door and ask for admittance, which Prince Bismarck did. It happened to be the place of Angeren [sic], a photographer, and as a pretext for escaping the crowd, Prince Bismarck said “Ah! We have come to have our picture taken”.’ In this version of events, Lucca took four of the photographs ‘but later they mysteriously disappeared from her house.'

The article then gives an alternative version of events, citing as the source an unnamed friend of Bismarck’s. Placing the incident ‘in the summer of 1865’ but without mentioning the location, once again the couple meet purely by chance while out walking. This time the singer cajoles the statesman into accompanying her to the photographer’s studio, looking up ‘into Bismarck’s face and plead[ing] with her beautiful eyes.’ At first they are photographed separately but then Lucca suggests a double portrait. ‘Bismarck could not refuse this childlike request, and, without any thought of the consequences, he allowed the photographer to proceed. A few days later the portrait of the most celebrated actress with the most celebrated statesman of the time was in every shop window, and for some time the matter was the talk of Europe.'

This particular carte-de-visite has had the original photographer’s label removed from the back of the mount and a small label printed on inferior quality paper now credits ‘W. Adolf & Co. Berlin’.

From an album compiled during the 1860s by the junior diplomat Charles Heneage (1841-1901). On the album page Heneage has titled the portrait, somewhat sarcastically, ‘Die Gasteiner Convention.'


Code: 125581
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© Paul Frecker 2018