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Zoomable Image of Portrait miniature of Charles Genevieve Louis Auguste André Timothée D’Eon de Beaumont, called the Chevalier D’Eon (1728-1810)

Portrait miniature of Charles Genevieve Louis Auguste André Timothée D’Eon de Beaumont, called the Chevalier D’Eon (1728-1810)

Henry Bone R.A. (1755-1834)

Portrait miniature of Charles Genevieve Louis Auguste André Timothée D’Eon de Beaumont, called the Chevalier D’Eon (1728-1810)

Henry Bone R.A. (1755-1834)

Purchase Enquiries

Phone +44(0)20 7499 6818

Email art@philipmould.com

Price:

£5,500

Materials:

Watercolour on ivory

Dimensions:

Oval, 3 3/8 in (85 mm) high

Inscriptions:

Signed and dated lower left: ‘HBONE 1793’ Inscribed on the reverse; ‘Monsieur/ Le Chevalier D’Eon’

Frame:

Gold plated frame.

Variously a soldier, spy and writer, D’Eon is most famously known for being a transvestite, from whom the term ‘eonism’ is derived.

This portrait of Charles D’Eon de Beaumont, commonly known as the Chevalier D’Eon, is a rare contemporary likeness in miniature of one of the most enigmatic figures of the later eighteenth century.

Henry Bone was born in Truro, Cornwall and in 1770 went to Plymouth where he was apprenticed to the Cookworthy factory where he painted China before completing his apprenticeship in Bristol under Richard Champion. When the factory went bankrupt in 1779 Bone moved to London and began exhibiting portrait miniatures at the Royal Academy from 1781, at first, as seen here, using watercolour on ivory and later moving towards the technique of enamelling. Unlike his later enamels, which were most commonly copies of works by his contemporaries, his earlier works on ivory tended to be original compositions and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise in the case of this example.

Variously a soldier, spy and writer, D’Eon is most famously known for being a transvestite, from whom the term ‘eonism’ (the phrase used in psychiatry to describe male adoption of female dress and manners) is derived. While D’Eon later claimed that one of his first instances of transvestism was at a ball at Versailles in 1755 where both Madame Pompadour and Louis XV tried to seduce him, it appears that he took to female dress towards the end of his life, and only then under compulsion. D’Eon’s career was effectively determined by his involvement in Louis XV’s secret service, called the secret du roi, which he joined in 1755. After a successful initial mission to Russia (and a brief but glorious spell in the army during the Seven Year’s War), D’Eon’s first major posting was to London in 1763, where he worked to secure the continental peace, as well as spy for the King. As a reward for his good service he was given a pension, appointed to the Order of St Louis, and made Minister Plenipotentiary in London.

However, D’Eon soon fell out with the French Ambassador in London, Guerchy, whom he accused of poisoning him. After his pleas for assistance from Louis XV were ignored, D’Eon petulantly published a series of highly confidential secret documents. The publication caused a sensation, but also led to a libel suit from Guerchy, and after D’Eon was found guilty by the High Court in London, he absconded by dressing as a woman. Eventually, Louis XV agreed to pay off D’Eon in order to prevent publication of further secret documents. But after Louis XVI succeeded the throne in 1774 D’Eon was forced to agree a new deal in which his pension would be paid, but only if he continued to dress as a woman – an order made in part, it seems, to help control his tempestuous nature. It appears at this stage that D’Eon was a reluctant transvestite, for although contemporary gossip claimed that he always had been a woman – with bets being made on his true sex – D’Eon himself continued to attempt to wear male dress, even at one stage (in 1779) being imprisoned for doing so. It appears that he made little attempt to act the part of his new clothing; James Boswell described him in 1786 as appearing ‘like a man in woman’s clothes, like Hecate on the stage.’ By the time of his final return to London in 1785 D’Eon had adopted female dress full-time. He still relied on his masculine side, earning a living in part through demonstration fencing matches. The French Revolution finally ended his sporadic pension from the French government, and for a while he had hopes that he would be able to serve the new regime. But his later years were spent in increasing decline; he spent some time in a debtor’s prison. In England, he had become so well known as an energetic woman that there was genuine surprise when he was found, in a posthumous medical examination, have male organs that were ‘in every respect perfectly formed’.

A larger portrait in oils by Thomas Stewart (b.1766) was discovered by Philip Mould & Co in 2011 and was recently bought by the National Portrait Gallery, London. Interestingly, unlike the Stewart portrait, which through various iconography suggests his military and patriotic prowess, the present work is far more humble and presents D’Eon in a more intimate, feminine guise.

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