Madame X (1884) by John Singer Sargent



An 1884 painting depicting the woman archetype; however, attempts to conceal the model's identity failed and she was determined to be none other than Virginie Gautreau, American expatriate and wife of Parisian banker Pierre Gautreau. Though Sargent had planned on 'Madame X' as a strategy for securing his career in Paris, the plan completely backfired - Virginie's own mother even requested that the work be pulled out of the Paris Salon of 1884. Though Sargent and Gautreau were initially very enthusiastic about the painting - she considered it 'a masterpiece,' and Sargent would sell the painting off later remarking 'it is probably the best thing I have ever done'), both were significantly disappointed by the reception. Gautreau retired from social life for quite some time, and Sargent would move his business permanently to London. Virginie, a highly active Parisian socialite notorious for her beauty and rumored infidelities, prided herself on her looks. She often work lavender powder that gave her skin the more pale appearance as seen in the painting, though the reddened ear hints at how her skin would appear without the powder. As such, she provided Sargent with a study in contrasts: her pale skin against the black dress and darkened background.

Born January 12, 1856 to American parents, John Singer Sargent would go on early in life to be trained in Paris. A prolific artist, Sargent created some 900 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolors and countless sketches during his career, and came to be hailed as "the greatest portrait painter of his generation." His commissioned portrait work gravitated heavily towards grand manner portraiture (heavy emphasis on classical elements), yet his informal work showed a heavy leaning towards Impressionism. After training in Paris, Sargent suffered a serious scandal at the outset of his career after submitting 'Portrait of Madame X' to the Paris Salon, in reality a portrait of Parisian socialite Virginie Gautreau (famous for her clout and affairs). The portrait, which Sargent would later in life call "my best work," garnered so much criticism at the time that Virginie retired from public life for awhile, and Sargent had no choice but to migrate his career to London. Much later in life he shifted away from portrait work, often complaining of the constraints of the work, and shifted to vivid watercolors that were known for evoking dreamlike qualities. He traveled extensively during this phase of life, painting scenes from the world over, from Venice to the murky swamplands of the American south.



Includes a border on all sides to allow for matting and framing.