Chevalier d'Eon: a transvestite gentleman of the XVIIIth century
The National Portrait Gallery has acquired the portrait of the french diplomat that surprised Europe in women's dress
Painted in 1792 and lost since 1926, the portrait of the Chevalier d'Eon (1728-1810) by Thomas Stewart (1758-1801) is on display at the National Portrait Gallery from June 6, after the rediscovery of the work by the antiquarian Philip Mould. Chevalier d'Eon began his career as a French soldier and came to London in 1762 as part of the French Embassy. For nearly five decades, d'Eon lived in the English capital in a double appearance, diplomat and spy, which first manifested itself as a man (1762-1777) and then as a woman (1785-1810), but the most admirable is that he/her enjoyed a considerable reputation in international politics, high society in London during all his life.
This acceptance and public recognition, even at grassroots level, has this picture as testimony (and many other prints that circulated in life). In this period, when a man captured into women's habits was persecuted, d'Eon lived publicly as a woman and was feted as a champion fencer and one of the diplomats who led the Peace of Paris in 1763 wich put to an end the Seven Years War. Thus, d'Eon refused to return to France. Even when the crown intend to arrest him and he responded by threatening to sell government secrets to the British.
It is therefore not surprising that in this portrait d'Eon appears wearing the insignia of partisan of the French Revolution, precisely at a time trying to woo the new revolutionary government with the promise of leading an army of soldiers against women of their enemies. The canvas is signed and dated by Thomas Stewart in 1792, and is a copy of the one exposed at the Royal Academy and painted by Jean Laurent Mosnier in 1791. It was probably commissioned by Francis Rawdon Hastings, II Earl of Moira and Marquis of Hastings I, a debauched aristocrat with am special taste for the "exotic" portraits. Alejandro Martínez