Helene Sedlmayr

An in-depth look at the “Munich Beauty”, Helene Sedlmayr

A beauty by any measure, this humble and hard-working country maid caught a king's eye and was immortalised forever.

Josef Stieler’s portrait of Helene Sedlmayr is a major draw ard at the Schönheitengalerie (Gallery of Beauties) at Munich's Nymphenburg Palace.

But who was this girl, actually?
How did she become known as the seminal Schöne Münchenerin (Munich beauty) a stereotype that espouses the good looks of Munich’s womenfolk?

From the village...

helene-sedlmayr-portraitHELENE: The portrait of the "Munich beauty" at
Schloss Nymphenburg.

Helene was born in 1813 in the village of Trostberg near the Chiemsee, a lake in eastern Bavaria.

Her dad was a well-known and respected shoemaker.
She worked as a maid the small city of Altötting until 1828 and then moved to Munich to do the same job.

...to the city

Records attest Helene was an extremely trustworthy and hard-working girl.
From 1830 to 1831 she was a store assistant in a fashion and toy store called Auracher’s.
She also moonlighted as an escort girl, I guess one of the respectable kind.
The king of Bavaria was Ludwig I (1786-1868). He was a true pants man.
Ludwig's architect and confidant Leo von Klenze kept a dossier of the king’s conquests which lists the names of over 50 girls.

ludwig-and-therese-bayernREGAL COUPLE: Queen Therese and King Ludwig I, both images are from portraits by Josef Stieler.

Royal encounter

helene-carouselLOOKING OVER US: An image of Helene Sedlmayr
on a bar/carousel at the Münchner Frühlingsfest
(Munich Spring Festival).

Ludwig even had scouts fan out across the kingdom to search for models for his Gallery of Beauties, a collection of portraits of the foxiest ladies he could find.
Helene crossed the king’s path after his wife, Queen Therese, bought toys from Auracher's for her princes.

Helene was charged with delivering the goods to the royal Residenz, where she ran into the regent himself.

Ludwig, struck by her doey-eyes and jet-black hair, decided she’d be a perfect fit for his gallery of gorgeous dames. Stieler painted the 18-year-old Helene wearing a Munich-style Dirndl dress in 1831.

Ludwig is said to have wooed her with the words “Don’t have such a searching and inquiring glance. You cheeky, loveliest beauty, look at me and trust me.”
Ludwig's heart ran so hot for Helene it was feared the affair would embarrass the royal court. After all, she was a mere shoemaker’s daughter.

Helene's fate

To protect Ludwig’s reputation Helene Sedlmayr was betrothed to the king’s valet, with the surname Miller.
Though it was a forced marriage, it was a happy one and the couple had 10 children – nine sons and one daughter. Though that would be a huge brood by today’s standards it was quite normal in the 19th century.
Helene died in 1898 aged 85 and her grave can be found in Munich’s Alter Südfriedhof cemetery.
Her great, great grandsons, Ernst and Peter Miller, are today the owners of the hotel Vierjahreszeiten (The Four Seasons) in Berchtesgaden in southern Bavaria.

On the small screen

helene-sedlmayr-kissKISS: Winfried Frey and Isabella Jantz
star in the TV production.
Pic:© Bayerischer Rundfunk

Public broadcaster Bayerisches Fernsehen (Bavarian Television) produced an adaption of the pivotal events in Helene's life in 2008 called "Die schöne Münchnerin".

It was filmed in front of a studio audience and dubbed "a not quite true" story of the encounter between the beauty and the king.

There's tongue-in-cheek humour galore and a surprise twist in which Helene becomes the de facto long-term mistress of the king, only marrying Miller to for appearance' sake.

helene-sedlmayr-childrenOFFSPRING:Helene and Ludwig's
children in the TV production.
Pic:© Bayerischer Rundfunk

Her brood of rowdy sons, all with Ludwig's long, red locks, show up in an epilogue at the end.

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• Helene's portrait is at Nymphenburg Palace.
• Find out more about Munich at Munich Backstory.
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