Monsieur d’Eon is a Woman

September 17, 2014 at 12:08 pm (books, portraits and paintings) (, , , )


Yesterday, searching for information on a ship of the line toured by the young ladies from Erle Stoke Park — HMS St. George (90 guns) and those who sailed on her in 1792, I came across the most arresting portrait, in oils, of a very mannish-looking woman.

Was the sitter who I thought?

Indeed!  a genuine portrait of le Chevalier d’Eon!

Chevalier d'Eon

The blog post I found is a couple years old, and tells the story of art dealer Philip Mould “uncovering and identifying” the sitter. Evidently the National Portrait Gallery snapped it up.

Frankly, how could anyone mistake the sitter – d’Eon was my first thought when the image popped up on my screen.

To understand the full d’Eon story, I refer Two Teens in the Time of Austen‘s readers to a biography by Gary Kates, Monseiur d’Eon is a Woman: A Tale of Political Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade.

kates_deon

I remember buying this book like it was yesterday (alas: more like 2001! assuming it was newly out in paperback).

I was visiting Dartmouth College, and going to Hanover ALWAYS meant a visit to the delightful Dartmouth Bookstore (now – alack!! – nothing more than another Barnes & Noble). I always searched a couple of sections: history (mainly Britain; France; Austria); biography; travel; and remaindered books in the back of the basement. I still remember where these departments used to be located!

D’Eon must have been in the history section (France), or maybe Gender Studies. I had gone down to New Hampshire by myself that day, and the sun was shining gloriously – I pulled into a park area near the river and hurriedly unwrapped the book from its bag, to look my treasure over more carefully. I had never heard of Charles d’Eon de Beaumont. I’ve pulled the book off the shelf again, and will have to give it a look-through, if not a re-read — now that I know what she looked like.

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