Portrait of Chevalier D’Éon — Diplomat, Spy, and Transvestite

Posted in Art Market by Editor on April 17, 2012

News from Philip Mould of a painting that’s reportedly attracted the attention of the National Portrait Gallery in London. The portrait is on display in London this week (16-20 April 2012). From Artdaily.com:

Thomas Stewart, "Portrait of Charles Genevieve Louis Auguste André Timothée D’Éon de Beaumont, called the Chevalier D’Éon," 1792

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 eighteenth-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’Éon that has been lost since 1926. The painting is now “under serious consideration” by the National Portrait Gallery, London. Should it be purchased will represent the gallery’s first oil painting of a cross-dresser in guise. “The story of D’Éon is one of the more remarkable biographies of the eighteenth century. The recent rediscovery of this lost and only oil portrait should dramatically reawaken his historical significance,” adds Philip Mould.

The picture will be on display at Philip Mould & Company, 29 Dover St from Monday 16th – Friday 20th April 2012 (excluding Wednesday morning). Although some line engravings and satirical prints survive, until the re-discovery of this lost portrait last year no illuminating portrait of D’Éon was known to survive. 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. Research undertaken by Philip Mould Ltd has since proved that the picture is by the theatrical artist called Thomas Stewart who specialised in painting actors and theatrical scenes in London in the 1790s – the same time as D’Éon was performing on stage as a fencer in drag.

D’Éon is known as the ‘Patron Saint of Transvestites’ and the word “eonism” meaning cross dressing and cross-sexuality derives from him. D’Éon was the son of middle class, provincial French parents and having excelled at school in 1756 the brilliant graduate was recruited by the top-secret network of spies called Le Secret du Roi, which worked personally for King Louis XV. The monarch sent D’Éon on a secret mission to Russia in order to meet Empress Elizabeth and intrigue with the pro-French faction against the Habsburgs. Later tales claim that D’Éon disguised herself as a lady to do so, and even became a maid of honour to the Empress. In 1763, having spent a heroic spell in the French dragoon guards where he distinguished himself as a master fencer, D’Éon was sent by Louis to London with the title Special Ambassador from France. His true mission was to spy for the king and collect information for a potential invasion – an initiative of which Louis’s ministers were unaware. Despite remaining private documents that prove he was buying female corsets, at this stage D’Éon kept his transvestite proclivities clandestine. After a year, D’Éon was replaced as ambassador by the aristocratic Count of Guerchy. Furious and humiliated by being reduced to his former rank as secretary, D’Éon decided to disobey orders to return to France, claiming that the new ambassador had tried to murder him. In an effort to save his position in London, D’Éon published most of the secret diplomatic correspondence. This breach of diplomatic protocol was unprecedented and scandalous, but D’Éon was careful to keep back from publication the King’s secret invasion documents and those relative to the Secret du Roi as ‘insurance’. With the invasion documents in hand, D’Éon held the king in check, and continued to work as a spy. But he could not return to France. At this point D’Éon 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 comprehensible since the emergence of the lost portrait. He was noted for his great intelligence and intellect but also his boorish lack of female charms. . .

The full article is available here»

Things: Material Culture at Cambridge, Easter Term 2012

Posted in lectures (to attend) by Editor on April 17, 2012

Programming from CRASSH at the University of Cambridge:

Things: Material Cultures of the Long Eighteen Century
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), Cambridge, ongoing series

Please note the change to the time and location of the seminar:
We meet alternate Tuesdays 12.30-2.30pm in the CRASSH Seminar Room at 7 West Road on the Sidgwick Site. A light lunch will be provided.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

The eighteenth century was the century of ‘stuff.’ Public production, collection, display and consumption of objects grew in influence, popularity, and scale. The form, function, and use of objects, ranging from scientific and musical instruments to weaponry and furnishings were influenced by distinct features of the time. Eighteenth-century knowledge was not divided into strict disciplines, in fact practice across what we now see as academic boundaries was essential to material creation. This seminar series will use an approach based on objects to encourage us to consider the unity of ideas of the long-eighteenth century, to emphasise the lived human experience of technology and art, and the global dimension of material culture. We will re-discover the interdisciplinary thinking through which eighteenth-century material culture was conceived, gaining new perspectives on the period through its artefacts.

Each seminar features two talks considering the same type of object from
different perspectives.

1 May 2012 – Food
Dr Melissa Calaresu and Dr Emma Spary (University of Cambridge)

15 May 2012 – Decorative Textiles
Dr Mary Brooks (York Museums Trust) and Dr Tara Hamling (University of Birmingham)

29 May 2012 – The Ship
Dr James Davey, Dr John McAleer and Dr Quintin Colville (National Maritime Museum)

12 Jun 2012 – The Body
Dr Faramerz Dabhoiwala (University of Oxford) and Dr Simon Chaplin (Wellcome Library), Guest Respondent: Jane Munro (Fitzwilliam Museum)

We will be rounding off the year with a one-day colloquium on Friday, 28 September 2012, We Need to Talk about ‘Things’: Concluding Colloquium. Details can be found at http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/events/1980/

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

You’re invited to visit the external blog and welcome to subscribe to the group mailing list at https://lists.cam.ac.uk/mailman/listinfo/crassh-things

Exhibition | Botanical Watercolours from the the Van Berkhey Collection

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on April 17, 2012

On at NCB Naturalis, as noted by Hélène Bremer:

Passion for Flowers: Drawings from the Van Berkhey Collection
NCB Naturalis, the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity, Leiden, 29 March — 8 July 2012

Johannes le Francq van Berkhey (1729-1812) was a man of the Enlightenment. His love for the arts, antiquities, literature and the natural sciences was reflected in his being an artist, collector, writer and lector in Natural History. He obtained a doctorate in medicine in his beloved home town of Leiden for his thesis on botanical studies. Over a period of forty years he assembled a magnificent and wide-ranging collection of natural history objects, including a remarkable collection of drawings and engravings, intended as a classified version of the entire living nature. Having a wide interest in his time, he could not keep himself out of politics. After being denounced for his political ideas, he was forced to sell his collections at auction in order to pay for his defence in court in 1785. The Spanish Royal Cabinet for Natural History realised the value of Van Berkhey’s collection and acquired it to advance the knowledge of natural history.

At Naturalis, for the first time, we present a careful selection of 41 of his botanical illustrations, meticulously preserved in Madrid’s Royal Botanic Gardens. The species represented include clovers,
lilies, peonies, roses, bamboos, chrysanthemums, asters, poppies and a flowering branch of a cherry or plum tree; species that typically started being introduced into European gardens during the 18th century.

Passie voor bloemen is on view until 8 July 2012.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

NCB Naturalis, the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity, was launched on 28 January 2010. The centre is the result of cooperation between Amsterdam University (Amsterdam Zoological Museum), Leiden University and Wageningen University and Research Centre (National Herbarium Nederland) and the National Natural History Museum Naturalis in Leiden. The partners’ collections will come together at NCB Naturalis into a collection totalling over 37 million objects. In terms of collection size, NCB Naturalis is one of the top five natural history museums in the world.

%d bloggers like this: