Thursday, March 02, 2006

Odd Art Wears a Dress

It's time for another installment of my series on Very Odd Art.

To-day we are focusing on Very Odd American Art of an Educational and Historic nature.

The painting above, which was created by an unknown artist, hangs in the New York Historical Society. It is popularly supposed to be a portrait of Edward Hyde, the third earl of Clarendon, who was the British governor of New York and New Jersey (!) from 1702 to 1708. While the subject is wearing a ball gown as well as (apparently) a five o'clock shadow, no one really can be certain.

What is certain is that old Edward, typically referred to as Lord Cornbury, had quite the horrible reputation for arrogance and corruption. And later-- a reputation for wearing women's clothing. Of course, New York has always been "fashion-forward" and terribly avant-garde...

The following is a relevant quote from History Laid Bare: Love, Sex, and Perversity from the Ancient Etruscans to Warren G. Harding, by Richard Zacks:

[Lord Cornbury's] great insanity was dressing himself as a woman. Lord Ordford says that when Governor in America [Cornbury] opened the Assembly dressed in that fashion. When some of those about him remonstrated, his reply was, 'You are very stupid not to see the propriety of it. In this place and particularly on this occasion, I represent a woman (Queen Anne) and ought in all respects to represent her as faithfully as I can.'

Mr. Williams says his father has told him that he has done business with him in woman's clothes. He used to sit at the open window so dressed, to the great amusement of the neighbours. He employed always the most fashionable milliner, shoemaker, staymaker, etc. Mr. Williams has seen a picture of him at Sir Herbert Packington's in Worcestershire, in a gown, stays, tucker, long ruffles, cap, etc.'


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