London's National Portrait Gallery has discovered that a painting they bought recently is not an 18th-century lady at all, but a transgender woman.
British newspaper The Guardian Arts reveals the National Portrait Gallery bought the painting at a provincial sale outside New Yourk last year.
It shows Chevalier d’Éon, diplomat, soldier and, most of all, cross-dresser.
Lucy Peltz, the gallery's curator of 18th-century portraits, told The Guardian: ‘We are absolutely delighted to be able to acquire this portrait. D'Eon is a particularly fascinating and important figure from 18th-century British history.’
Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont (5 October 1728 to 21 May 1810), usually known as the Chevalier d'Éon, was a French diplomat, spy and Freemason, whose first 49 years were spent as a man, and whose last 33 years were spent as a woman.
Upon death, a council of physicians discovered that d'Éon's body was anatomically male.
Despite d'Éon's wearing a dragoon's uniform all the time, there were rumors that she was actually a woman, and a betting pool was started on the London Stock Exchange about her true sex.
D'Éon was invited to join, but declined, saying that an examination would be dishonoring, whatever the result.
D'Éon claimed to be physically not a man, but a woman, and demanded recognition by the government as such.
King Louis XVI and his court complied, but demanded that d'Éon dress appropriately and wear women's clothing. D'Éon agreed, especially when the king granted her funds for a new wardrobe.
In 1779, d'Éon published the memoirs La Vie Militaire, politique, et privée de Mademoiselle d'Éon. They were ghostwritten by a friend named La Fortelle, and are probably embellished.
D'Éon returned to England in 1785. She lost her pension after the French Revolution and had to sell her library. In 1792, d'Éon sent a letter to the French National Assembly, offering to lead a division of women soldiers against the Habsburgs; the offer was rebuffed.
D'Éon participated in fencing tournaments until she was seriously wounded in 1796.
D'Éon's last years were spent with a widow, 'Mrs Cole'. In 1804 d'Éon was imprisoned for debt but released in 1805, upon which a contract was signed for an autobiography.
The book was never published, because d'Éon became paralyzed following a fall. Her final four years were spent bedridden, and on 21 May 1810 she died in poverty in London at the age of 82.