Eight lanthanide(III) oleates have been prepared and characterized. The chelation and self-assembly structures of these rare-earth oleates have been studied by elemental analysis, Fourier transfer infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and X-ray powder diffraction (XRD) analysis. Elemental analysis and FTIR results indicate that three oleate anions are complexed with one lanthanide cation and, with the exception of anhydrous cerium(III) oleate, form either a mono- or a hemihydrate. The X-ray analysis showed that the neat lanthanide soaps have a lamellar bilayer structure at room temperature. The thermal behavior has been investigated by cross-polarized optical microscopy (POM), differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), and thermogravimetric analysis (TGA). POM scans showed that all the lanthanide oleates form a lamellar phase in the presence of excess water. Small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) and XRD were used to investigate the internal structure of the bulk lanthanide oleates in excess water, and these X-ray results confirmed that the lanthanide oleates do not swell in water. Select lanthanide oleates were dispersed in water to form nonswelling lamellar submicrometer particles, confirmed by dynamic light scattering (DLS) and synchrotron SAXS measurements. NMR results indicated that colloidal dispersions of lanthanide oleates containing paramagnetic ions, such as gadolinium(III), terbium(III), and dysprosium(III), have a significant effect on the longitudinal (T₁) and transverse (T₂) relaxation times of protons in water. Time-resolved fluorescence measurements have demonstrated that colloidal dispersions of europium(III) oleate exhibit strong luminescence. The rare earth metal soaps exemplify the potential of self-assembled chelating amphiphiles as contrast agents in medical imaging modalities such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and fluorescence imaging.