Found: the earliest surviving formal portrait of the celebrated man/woman/spy Chevalier d'Eon whose first 49 years of life were spent as a man, and last 33 as a woman. Indeed, Chevalier's gender was so much in question that it took a medical inquest upon death to discover it.
So what's the significance of the painting above? It's the earliest formal portrait of a cross-dresser:
“The 18th century portrait appeared to be of a somewhat manly middle-aged lady. Research before the sale suggested otherwise, and upon cleaning, the face revealed a distinctive 5 0’clock shadow. This fuelled further investigation that resulted in the astonishing discovery that the portrait is of the legendary spy, diplomat and transvestite, Chevalier D’Eon that has been lost since 1926. The painting is now “under serious consideration” by the National Portrait Gallery, London. Should it be purchased will represent the gallery’s first oil painting of a cross-dresser in guise. [...]
Although some line engravings and satirical prints survive, until the re-discovery of this lost portrait last year no illuminating portrait of D’Eon was known to survive. The painting emerged, fittingly for the sitter, as ‘Portrait of a Woman with a Feather in her hat’, as attributed to Gilbert Stuart, as part of a general antique paintings auction a Thos. Cornell Galleries Ltd, New York, in November last year. It was part of the collection of Ruth Stone, daughter of Samuel Klein of Klein’s Department Stores, USA. Research undertaken by Philip Mould Ltd has since proved that the picture is by the theatrical artist called Thomas Stewart who specialised in painting actors and theatrical scenes in London in the 1790’s – the same time as D’Eon was performing on stage as a fencer in drag . D’Eon is known as the “Patron Saint of Transvestites” and the word “eonism” meaning cross dressing and cross-sexuality derives from him.
More from Art Daily: Link