Chevalier d’Eon (1728-1810) by Thomas Stewart, after Jean-Laurent Mosnier (NPG 6937)
by Thomas Stewart, after Jean Laurent Mosnier
This painting of the celebrated soldier, diplomat and fencer, Chevalier d’Éon (Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d' Éon de Beaumont) (1728-1810), was an important acquisition for the National Portrait Gallery as it is the earliest representation of a transgender person in the Collection. D’Éon was respected internationally after playing a key role in peace negotiations that ended the Seven Years’ War, and later as a professional fencer, performing for George, Prince of Wales, though always fighting in women’s attire  . This portrait is an unprecedented historic document of the sitter’s acceptance into British society at a time when people who wore clothing not associated with their assigned gender were viciously persecuted. The decision to acquire the portrait was largely based on the sitter’s importance to the history of transgender people in Britain.
When the portrait was initially offered to the National Portrait Gallery, curators were unaware that it was a contemporary copy of an original portrait painted by French artist, Jean-Laurent Mosnier (1743-1808). This came to light when the owner of the original portrait informed the Gallery of its existence. The Mosnier painting had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1791 where, according to The Public Advertiser, dated 23rd March 1792, it was received with ‘general satisfaction’ by the public. An article in The European Magazine and London Review, written almost a year later, confirms that the portrait was bought by the Irish army officer and politician, Francis Hastings Rawdon, 1st Marquess of Hastings and 2nd Earl of Moira (1754-1826). The National Portrait Gallery’s portrait of D’Éon is signed by Thomas Stewart and can also be traced to Francis Rawdon, who may have commissioned this copy of the original for a friend, Sir John Macnamara Hayes (1750?–1809). Hayes was a military physician who in November 1793 was appointed director of hospitals in the army by Francis Rawdon.
At Hayes’ death, the portrait was passed down in his family until it was sold at auction in November 2011. When sold, the auctioneers catalogued the work as ‘Woman with Feather Hat’ and attributed it to the artist Gilbert Stuart.
Fig 1: The Assault or Fencing Match, which took place at Carlton House on the 9th April 1787, by Victor Marie Picot, stipple engraving with aquatint, 1789, after a painting by Charles Jean Robineau. Graphic Arts Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. Image courtesy of Princeton University Library.
Fig 2: The Fencing-Match between the Chevalier de Saint-George and the Chevalier d’Éon, by Alexandre-Auguste Robineau, oil on canvas, c.1787-9. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018