Portrait of a Lady

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John Singer Sargent.org

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John Singer Sargent


John Singer Sargent was an Italian-born American painter whose portraits of the wealthy and privileged provide an enduring image of Edwardian-age society.

John Singer Sargent was born in 1856 in Florence, Italy. He earned early acclaim for his promise as a portraitist, although he drew harsh reviews for his exhibition of Madame X at the Paris Salon of 1884. He reclaimed a favorable reputation by the end of the decade, and by the early 20th century he was devoting more time to war-themed paintings, landscapes and watercolors. Sargent died in 1925 in London, England. (more at Biography)

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Madame X is the informal title of a portrait painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau.

The model was an American expatriate who married a French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities. She wore lavender powder and prided herself on her appearance.

Madame X was painted not as a commission, but at the request of Sargent. It is a study in opposition. Sargent shows a woman posing in a black satin dress with jeweled straps, a dress that reveals and hides at the same time. The portrait is characterized by the pale flesh tone of the subject contrasted against a dark colored dress and background.

For Sargent, the scandal resulting from the painting’s controversial reception at the Paris Salon of 1884 amounted to the failure of a strategy to build a long-term career as a portrait painter in France, though it may have helped him establish a successful career in Britain and America. (more at wiki)