The couples we featured in our story were married couples, not necessarily involved in sexual threesome, but at one point during their marriage they lived in a menage a trois, in most of our cases an artist, with whom at least the wife was having a sexual relationship. Unconventional, these relationships were condemned and derided by society, but some of them were based on more than sexual attraction and outlasted the critics.

Gilbert Cannan & Amy Gwen Wilson + husband Henry Mond, 2nd Baron Melchett

Scandal & Fire Basket by Charles Sargeant Jagger

Scandal & Fire Basket by Charles Sargeant Jagger

Before he met Amy Gwen Wilson, British novelist Gilbert Cannan had an affair with another married woman, actress Mary Ansell, the wife of Scottish author J. M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan. While involved in an affair with her, he was also wooing British sculptor Kathleen Scott, but when she married Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Cannan proposed to Mary. Mary Barrie divorced her unwilling, depressed husband and married Cannan in 1910, but he was unfaithful thorough their marriage and in 1918 he fell in love the then single Amy, “a show stopping beauty and artist”. He divorced Mary, but during one of his lectures in the United States Amy married wealthy politician Henry Mond, 2nd Baron Melchett. On his return he became friends with the husband and he moved to the couple’s house in Smith Square, Westminster. As they liked to flaunt their relationship, they became the talk of the town. Some of their works were even subject to censure due to their unconventional living arrangements. But they were defiant and proud: they commissioned a life size high relief by Charles Sargeant Jagger entitled “Scandal” and a companion firebasket for their drawing room. The sculptures are now in the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Sadly, Cannan had a mental breakdown in 1923 and spent the rest of his life in mental hospitals and sanatoriums. He died of cancer in 1955.

Vladimir Mayakovsky & Lilya Brik + husband Osip Brik

Vladimir Mayakovsky & Lilya Brik

Vladimir Mayakovsky & Lilya Brik

Born in July 1893, Vladimir Mayakovsky, was a Russian poet and actor. He started writing poetry in his teenage years, during a stay in prison. His association with the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party and the socialist movement had landed him in prison three times before his 18th birthday and got him expelled from the Moscow Art School. In his early twenties he met and fell in love with Lilya Brik, the wife of his publisher Osip Brik. Lilya was two years older and had married when she was 14 and Osip was 17. Born into a wealthy Jewish family, she and her sister were famous for their beauty and their portraits were done by numerous artists such as David Burlyuk, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall. From an early age Lilya dreamed of becoming the muse of a famous artist and her husband understood and supported her dream. In fact, when Lylia told him she was cheating with Vladimir he exclaimed: “How could you refuse anything to that man?”. Soon after the beginning of the affair the trio became inseparable and moved in together. Almost all the lyrical poems he wrote during and after their affair were dedicated to Lylia. Vladimir lived with the couple in a succession of homes for the rest of his life, even though their sexual relationship ended in 1917 and he embarked in romances with other women. Osip remained Vladimir’s publisher, his best friend and trusted adviser. After Mayakovski shot himself in 1930, the couple divorced. That same year Lylia married General Vitali Primakov, but seven years later he was arrested and executed. In 1938 she married writer Vasily Abgarovich Katanyan. Their marriage lasted until her death in April 1945, at 87. Osip died from a heart attack in February 1945.

Max Ernst & Gala Dali + husband Paul Eluard

Max Ernst, Gala Dali & Paul Eluard

Max Ernst, Gala Dali & Paul Eluard

When German Dadaist painter, sculptor and poet Max Ernst met French poet Paul Eluard in 1921, a lifelong friendship was formed. At the time of their first meeting both were married: Max to then art art history student Luise Straus, later art critic and journalist; and Paul to the beautiful Russian Gala, born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova. Eluard and Gala had a daughter, but Gala was a horrible mother, ignoring and mistreating her child. Ernst’s marriage was short lived due to his numerous affairs and frequent absences. Eluard bought two of his paintings, selected 6 of his collages to illustrate his poetry collection “Repetitions” and the two beagn a fruitful artistic collaboration. In 1922, Ernst left behind his wife and son, entered France illegally and began living with Eluard and Gala. Almost immediately he and Gala began a sexual relationship with Eluard’s consent. For a couple of years the trio lived happily, even moving into a new home that Ernst decorated with murals. But after a while, Eluard became concerned he was becoming a third wheel. He left the couple and traveled to Mexic and Saigon, Vietnam, where he summoned them. Gala and Max had to sell paintings and belongings to get to Saigon. There they decided they had to end their ménage a trois and Gala should stay with her husband. Ernst went on to marry Peggy Guggenheim and later young painter, sculptor, writer and poet Dorothea Tanning. Gala and Eluard went on a visit to Spain in 1929 where Gala met and fell in love with the younger Salvator Dali. Gala and Dali were married in 1934, but during their marriage Gala had numerous affairs, including a long lasting one with her ex-husband.

Charles de Villers & Dorothea von Rodde-Schlözer + husband Mattheus Rodde

Charles de Villers & Dorothea von Rodde-Schlozer

Charles de Villers & Dorothea von Rodde-Schlozer

Charles de Villers was a French author and philosopher better known for translating the works of Immanuel Kant into French. After the French Revolution he moved to Germany where he became acquainted and fell in love with Dorothea von Rodde-Schlözer. Dorothea was the first woman to receive a doctor of philosophy degree in Germany and a well known intellectual and beauty married to the wealthy merchant, Mayor of Göttingen and Senator, Mattheus Rodde. 3 years after their first meeting, they moved in together and for the rest of their lives they raised Dorothea and Mattheus‘s three children. The unconventional family received guests from France and Germany and held soirees for other artists, politicians and intellectuals. When the French occupied Germany in 1806, Villiers’s French citizenship saved the family from the losses and ravages of an occupation. But by 1810 her husband lost all his fortune and was showing early symptoms of senility. Villiers lost his job as a Professor in 1814 and died a year later at 51. Soon after his death, two of Dorothea’s children also died. Desperate to save her only surviving child from pneumonia, she moved to Avignon, France for a warmer climate, but contacted pneumonia herself and died at 55.

Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson & Emma Hamilton + husband Sir William Hamilton

Probably the most famous menage a trois story on our list, the affair between the married hero of the nation Admiral Nelson and the younger married Emma encouraged and supported by her husband, scandalized Britain. When they met Lord Nelson was in his 40s, but the war had aged him; he had also lost an arm and his teeth. Emma’s life wasn’t easier: she spent her teenage years working as a model, dancer and actress struggling with poverty. At 15, during a job as a model for “quack” sexologist James Graham she met Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh who hired her as an entertainer for his parties and made her his mistress. At one of these parties, where she would apparently dance naked on the dining room table, she met and fell in love with the charming Charles Francis Greville. Emma became his mistress and it was Greville that introduced Emma to painter George Romney, whose muse she became. But Greville was in need of money, wanted a rich wife and needed to get rid of Emma, so he convinced his uncle, the British Envoy to Naples Sir William Hamilton to marry her.

 Lady Hamilton as Circe by George Romney / Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson by Lemuel Francis Abbott

Lady Hamilton as Circe by George Romney / Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson by Lemuel Francis Abbott

Sir Hamilton was a collector of art, intrigued by Emma’s beauty he also needed a hostess for his parties and a beautiful woman as a companion. Emma only found out about the arrangement when she met Sir Hamilton. She was furious, but she quickly adapted to life in Naples, hosting parties in their home where she performed for guests such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun. In 1798, when Emma met Lord Nelson she reportedly fainted, throwing herself on the admiral and exclaimed “Oh God, is it possible?”. She treated his wounds and soon enough a very public affair began. Her husband, his health failing, welcomed Nelson into their home, but their blissful menage a trois forced the Admiralty to send Nelson back to sea to get him away from Emma. Nelson was willing to divorce his estranged wife, but both he and Emma respected Sir William too much and did not want to abandon him. After the birth of their daughter Horatia, Nelson bought Merton Place, a small house where he lived openly with Emma, Sir William and Emma’s mother. The public was fascinated, Emma became a fashion icon and the newspapers followed their every move. But after the death of Sir William in 1803, Emma was left pregnant, alone and she began gaining weight. The child died a few weeks after the birth and Emma began gambling, spending lavishly. Lord Nelson was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar, leaving Emma to tend for herself and her daughter. She quickly fell into debt and spent years with her daughter in a debtor’s prison. They moved to France, running from her creditors. Depressed, she became an alcoholic and died in poverty at 50.

BONUS

Hattie Jacques & John Schofield + her husband, John Le Mesurier

John Le Mesurier & Hattie Jacques

John Le Mesurier & Hattie Jacques

Hattie Jacques, born Josephine Edwina Jaques was an English comedic actress, active during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Jacques met the then married, albeit estranged from his wife, John Le Mesurier in 1947 and they were married in 1949 when his divorce was finalized. They had two sons, but in early 1962 Jacques began an affair with her younger driver, John Schofield. Soon after, the driver moved into their house and while he slept with Jacques in the bedroom, Le Mesurier lived in a room in attic. Le Mesurier desperately tried to save their marriage, but under the stress of his situation he fell ill and collapsed in 1963. He finally moved out of their house and later that year he met and married actress Joan Malin. Jacques and Schofield only lasted for a few more months after the divorce: Schofield ran off with an Italian heiress. Jacques entered a depression, started binge eating and gained over 130 kg. She died of a heart attack at age 58.


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The couples we featured in our story were married couples, not necessarily involved in sexual threesome, but at one point during their marriage they lived in a menage a trois, in most of our cases an artist, with whom at least the wife was having a sexual relationship. Unconventional,...