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Woman in black: Sargent’s scandalous ‘Portrait of Madame X’

In this video, we take a closer look at a painting that set off a scandal from which neither its artist nor its subject emerged unscathed.

‘Madame X’ or ‘Portrait of Madame X’ is the title of a portrait by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of the French banker Pierre Gautreau.

Sargent (1856-1925) was an American expatriate artist, considered the “leading portrait painter of his generation” for his evocations of Edwardian-era luxury.

‘Madame X’ was painted not as a commission, but at the request of Sargent, and offers a study in contrasts. It depicts a woman in a black satin dress with jewelled straps, her pale flesh tones offering a counterpoint to the sombre colour of her garment and the background itself.

When the painting first appeared at the Paris Salon under the title ‘Portrait de Mme ***’ in 1884, people were shocked and scandalised; the attempt to preserve the subject’s anonymity was unsuccessful, and the sitter’s mother requested that Sargent withdraw the painting from the exhibition. The artist refused, saying he had painted her “exactly as she was dressed, that nothing could be said of the canvas worse than had been said in print of her appearance”.

The poor public and critical reception was a disappointment to both artist and model. Gautreau was humiliated by the affair, and Sargent soon left Paris and moved to London permanently.

View the original video here.

Good Living is the Cyprus Mail’s portal of curated content from across the internet, showcasing local and global ideas, cultural highlights, and scientific and technological developments to inspire a sustainable life.

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