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On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F , Case RMC, Shelf 9, Box J

Portrait miniature probably of the Chevalier d'Eon

Portrait Miniature
ca. late 18th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Oval portrait miniature said to be of the Chevalier d'Eon. The identification is based on the inscription engraved on the locket: "Mademoiselle / la Chevaliere D'Eon / Painted from the Life / in London 1776 / by Monr. Judelin."


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
miniature painting on ivory
Brief Description
Portrait miniature probably of the Chevalier d'Eon by Alexis Judlin. French School, ca. late 18th century.
Physical Description
Oval portrait miniature said to be of the Chevalier d'Eon. The identification is based on the inscription engraved on the locket: "Mademoiselle / la Chevaliere D'Eon / Painted from the Life / in London 1776 / by Monr. Judelin."
Dimensions
  • Height: 1.4375in (Note: sight measure)
  • Width: 1.125in (Note: sight measure)
Dimensions taken from Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Engraving, Illustration and Design and Department of Paintings, Accessions 1929, London: Board of Education, 1930.
Marks and Inscriptions
Mademoiselle / la Chevaliere D'Eon / Painted from the Life / in London 1776 / by Monr. Judelin. (engraved on the back)
Credit line
Bequeathed by Miss Grace Valentine Stephenson as part of the R. H. Stephenson Bequest
Subjects depicted
Bibliographic Reference
Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont, commonly referred to as the Chevalier d’Éon, (born Oct. 5, 1728, Tonnerre, France—died May 21, 1810, London), was a French secret agent, soldier, and fencer from whose name the term “eonism” is derived, denoting specifically male to female transvestism or transition. Le Chevalier d’Eon joined 'Le Secret' as a spy in 1755 on the eve of the Seven Years War. Their first mission was to Russia to gain the trust and ear of the Tzarina Elizabeth. This appears to be the first record of the Chevalier dressing as a woman for the purposes of espionage, taking the name Mademoiselle Lia de Beaumont. The Tzarina was described as more likely to respond to the attentions of 'a pleasant young woman', coupled with the fact that border controls put in place by the English prohibited French access to Russia. However, women and children were permitted to cross. The truth of whether this mission ever took place at all is contested, like many other mysteries in the Chevalier’s life. After continued good service to the nation as a dragoon captain, they went to London in 1762 returning to Versailles the next year with the ratification of the Treaty of Paris. They received the cross of St. Louis and returned to London, this time with ambassadorial status and instructions from the King for further espionage to rebuild France’s fortunes by invading England following the loss of their American colonies. However, after a quarrel with another ambassador, the Chevalier was fired and ordered to return to France but they refused to go, instead opting to air French secrets in a libellous and scandalous publication of diplomatic letters in 1764. Forced into exile, they remained in London and speculation mounted as to the Chevalier’s gender with bookmakers setting odds from 1771 to gamble on the question. This posed a considerable danger to the Chevalier who couldn’t leave their home without guards for the threat of people attempting to strip off their clothes in the street. In 1775 they signed an agreement to hand back any official documents to France and be publicly recognised as a woman by the King. Living out the remainder of their life in London as a woman, they died in 1810 and were interred at St Pancras Old Church. An autopsy performed two days after death certified them as “male-bodied” but with "unusual roundness in the formation of limbs...[and] breast remarkably full" giving rise to speculations more recently that they may have been intersex. The complexity of the Chevalier's gender identity has become a central narrative in the search for gender non-conforming histories in 18th century Europe.
Collection
Accession Number
P.31-1929

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record createdJune 30, 2009
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