A Strange Portrait for the National Portrait Gallery in London

Thomas Stewart (1766-1801)
Charles de Beaumont, Knight of Eon, 1792
Oil on Canvas - 73.7 x 67.2 cm
London, National Portrait Gallery
Photo : National Portrait Gallery

8/6/12 - Acquisition - London, National Portrait Gallery - The National Portrait Gallery has just acquired a portrait dated 1792 representing a transvestite. This is the famous Charles de Beaumont, knight of Eon (1728-1810), who led a brilliant military and diplomatic career. He worked notably for Louis XV’s intelligence service, was sent to the Russian court then London, in 1762, where he participated in the treaty of Paris in 1763 and finally, was awarded a decoration in the Ordre de Saint Louis.
Charles de Beaumont made the headlines at the time for dressing as a woman - hence the term coined from the name eonism - and lived in London between 1762 and 1777 as a man, then between 1785 and 1810 as a woman, to the point that king Louis XVI prohibited him from showing himself in France dressed as a man, especially in the uniform of a dragoon captain. There are caricatures representing this colorful figure, a skillful swordsman who fought duels wearing a skirt.
This recently acquired portrait however is far from being a caricature, evoking rather a certain melancholic sweetness underscored by the slight inclination of the head and the bare background. The same element can be found in a drawing of the château of Blérancourt giving us an idea of his graceful features at an early age. Strangely, his feminine portraits rarely omit the order of Saint Louis, all the more surprising since here he is also wearing the Revolutionary "cocarde" or rosette ; this is because the knight welcomed the Revolution and even offered at the National Assembly to lead an army of amazons.

The painting was discovered last year by Philippe Mould, a London art dealer, during an auction near New York where it was presented as a Portrait of a Woman, Anonymous and attributed to Gilbert Suart. The artist is in fact Thomas Stewart, a London portraitist active in the late 18th century. This appears to be a copy after a canvas by Jean-Laurent Mosnier exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1791. The copy was probably commissioned by Francis Rawdon Hastings who was known for his taste in paintings of a certain originality.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mardi 12 juin 2012

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