A Jersey Lily (1878). John Everett Millais (English, 1829-1896). Oil on canvas. Jersey Museum and Art Gallery.
Born Emilie Charlotte le Breton in Jersey, Lillie Langtry went on to become a great society beauty and later a well-known actress. Her lifestyle challenged the social codes of her day. Millais’ portrait of Langtry (holding what is in fact a Guernsey lily) was one of the most celebrated paintings of its day. It was displayed at the Royal Academy in 1878 where crowds thronged to see it.
Oscar’s friend Lillie Langtry, an actress, was known for her beauty and nicknamed ‘The New Helen’. Wilde wrote a poem thus titled for her, and when it was published sent her a copy with the inscription, “To Helen, formerly of Troy, now of London.”
Lillie Langtrywas born as Emilie Charlotte Le Breton on 13 October of 1852 in Jersey. She was a popular Victorian singer and actress, known as the “Jersey Lily” for her beauty. She first came to London when she was about 20 - Lillie had married a rich man owning a yacht and had begged him to take her away from Jersey. She wanted to mix with London society. Lillie had always been a tomboy because she had always played with her brothers and the Londoners liked her modest way of dressing and her wit. She was soon known as a beauty and a lot of artists wanted to paint her.
She made her acting debut in 1881 when her friend, writer Oscar Wilde, advised her to do so. She became popular almost instantly and soon toured the USA, where she was also very well-liked. But Lillie was also known for sometimes being very rude and her many affairs with royality: The Prince of Wales (who´d later become Edward VII) for example. Lillie also loved racing horses and owned a few herself.
She would later become restless again, eventually divorce her husband and move to the United States. She became a U.S. citizen in 1897, but she later moved to Monaco. In 1899 she remarried: Her new husband was much younger than her and a baron, but he also became very famous for his racing horses later. Lillie died in Monaco in 1929, but she was buried at home in Jersey as she had wished.