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Rare portrait found of 18th century spy, diplomat & transvestite: “Research … revealed a distinctive 5 0’clock shadow.”

April 17, 2012

The portrait is of the legendary spy, diplomat and transvestite, Chevalier D’Eon. (Philip Mould & Company)

Divertissement of the day: Philip Mould & Company in London, according to a press release on ArtfixDaily,  has found a missing portrait of “the legendary spy, diplomat and transvestite, Chevalier D’Eon that has been lost since 1926.”

The earliest surviving formal portrait of a male transvestite has been discovered by Philip Mould in a New York saleroom.  On first glance the historic portrait featuring a rather masculine looking woman piqued the renowned art sleuth’s interest.   A gentle clean and further painstaking research uncovered a rich and colourful history.

The 18th century portrait appeared to be of a somewhat manly middle-aged lady. Research before the sale suggested otherwise, and upon cleaning, the face revealed a distinctive 5 0’clock shadow. This fuelled further investigation that resulted in the astonishing discovery that the portrait is of the legendary spy, diplomat and transvestite, Chevalier D’Eon that has been lost since 1926.

The press release includes these entertaining passages:

The painting emerged, fittingly for the sitter, as ‘Portrait of a Woman with a Feather in her hat’, as attributed to Gilbert Stuart, as part of a general antique paintings auction a Thos. Cornell Galleries Ltd, New York, in November last year. It was part of the collection of Ruth Stone, daughter of Samuel Klein of Klein’s Department Stores, USA.

And …

At this point D’Eon began to dress publicly as a woman, the motives for which are not entirely clear, and a betting pool was started on the London Stock Exchange about his true sex.

Observers described him as elaborately attired as a woman, but with masculine traits such as stubble and a tendency to hitch his skirts up when climbing stairs – all characteristics which have become more comprehendible since the emergence of the lost portrait. He was noted for his great intelligence and intellect but also his boorish lack of female charms. 18th century society found it much more acceptable to calibrate him as a masculine woman rather than a cross-dressing man.

Read the whole press release … it’s just too funny and absolutely fascinating.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Cather permalink
    April 17, 2012 4:06 PM


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