Lecture: New Acquisitions
Past event archive
21 March 2013, 13:15-14:00
Ondaatje Wing Theatre
by Thomas Stewart, after Jean Laurent Mosnier
Dr Lucy Peltz, the Gallery’s 18th Century Curator, discusses some of the recent acquisitions to the Collection, including the portrait of transvestite diplomat Chevalier d’Eon who started his career as a soldier, diplomat and spy on a mission at the Court of Empress Elizabeth of Russia between 1755 and 1763. Returning to Britain in 1786 with a new female identity he forged a new life for himself performing fencing demonstrations. There was constant speculation about his gender, bets were placed and d’Eon was subjected to several gender tests which declared him to be a woman. Despite comments on his lack of feminine decorum or ‘delicacy’, he was upheld by pioneering feminist writers such as Mary Robinson and Mary Wollstonecraft as a shining example of female achievement and a benchmark of female fortitude to which British women might aspire.
The portrait of radical propagandist and patron of the arts, Thomas Hollis, a man who devoted his life to lobbying for parliamentary reform, opposing corruption and promoting democracy, will also be discussed. His 'Great Plan' to reform public life began in 1754, which shaped political debate in Britain and created an identity for the London Opposition which was the most significant political force outside government between the 1750s to the 1770s.
American born Ira Aldridge, the first major black actor on the British stage is another new Gallery acquisition. One of the leading tragic actors of his day, he arrived in England in 1824 and first appeared on the London stage in 1825, playing Orinokoo in The Revolt of Surinam, at the Royal Coburg Theatre which is now the Old Vic. He toured throughout Europe and the portrait now owned by the Gallery provides an opportunity to explore the Britain’s diverse histories and the cosmopolitan and multicultural nature of early nineteenth-century popular culture and urban life.