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“Portrait of Madame X”

When John Singer Sargent unveiled his portrait of a woman in black in 1884, Parisian society literally broke out with indignation. The artist was forced to leave the country, and the heroine of the portrait went into the shadows for a long time. What so revolted the audience of the XIX century?

“Portrait of Madame X” is an elegant portrait of John Singer Sargent, which features a young socialite Virginie Amelie Avigno Gautro. Virginie Gautro – the wife of a wealthy businessman Pierre Gautro. At that time, Virginie had the status of “professional beauty.” This term refers to people who have used their social skills and appearance to develop in society.

Work on the picture
The painting was not commissioned; it was Sargent’s personal initiative to paint a portrait of a young woman. He transmitted his request to Virginia through their mutual friend, in a letter to which he wrote:
“I have a great desire to paint her portrait, and I have reason to believe that she will allow it. You can tell her that I have amazing talent. ” Finally, after two years of negotiation through a friend, Madame Gautro finally agreed to sit behind the portrait of Sargent. In the process of writing, the artist prepared a lot of sketches and sketches for the main work. Sargent chose the right posture, gestures, facial expressions and interior for a long time. Work continued particularly long in view of Gautro’s behavior. Sargent complained about her “beauty that cannot be portrayed, and her hopeless laziness.” Indeed, Virginie was extremely restless. In addition, due to an active social life, she did not have enough time to pose for the artist. It took Sargent 2 years to complete the picture.
Presentation in the Salon
The portrait was exhibited at the Salon in 1884. Having an impressive size (234.85 × 109.86 cm) and the graceful beauty of the model, Sargent and Gautro herself hoped for an enchanting performance. But it wasn’t there … The picture horrified the Parisians, it was met with sharp criticism and contradictions. The public of that time considered the picture too frank and provocative. And the matter is not at all in the deathly pallor of the skin, not in the heroine’s scarlet ear, not in her too sharp nose. The most important thing that alerted the audience – open shoulders and a lowered strap. It was a dress that caused disaster. Sargent tried to hide the identity of the mysterious Madame, initially calling the painting “Portrait of Madame ***”. But, despite all the contradictions in the assessment of the picture, her personality quickly became public. Before the picture debuted, Gautro was already the heroine of gossip for her frank style and immodest connections (but this was not customary to talk about). And the “Portrait of Madame X” literally laid bare all the indecency of her behavior in public. Virginie’s mother, Maria Virginia de Ternant, made a real scene for the artist, stating: “All of Paris makes fun of my daughter. She is destroyed … She will die of chagrin. ” The Gautro family was marred by the tainted reputation of Virginia and asked to remove the painting from the Salon. Sargent refused, but offered to correct his unenviable position: he rewrote the style of the dress and returned the strap to his shoulder. Adjustments did not save the situation, on the contrary, after the changes the dress began to look awkward.

The picture received such a huge response that Sargent had to move from Paris to London and find refuge from the humiliation received. He kept the picture in his studio. Sargent expected the complete destruction of his career, but fate was more favorable to him: the arrogance of the artist caused an exorbitant demand for portraits from the fashionable British and American public. As is now known, John Singer Sargent has become one of the most famous portrait painters in history. A similar situation occurred with Virginie. After the scandal, she went into the shadows, but a century passed and Virginie Gautro became a real style icon, revered throughout the world for decades. Her legacy is elegance, beauty and grace, and scandals make her personality even more interesting.
Madame Gautro subsequently posed for two other artists: Gustave-Claude-Etienne Courtois in 1891 and Antonio de la Gandara in 1898. The portrait of the last master became her favorite.
Color, light and composition
Sargent was limited to using color in this portrait, which has a thin palette of brown, gray, and black. There is a strong intentional contrast between soft, light skin tones and dark, impressive browns and blacks in the rest of the picture. This method is known as chiaroscuro (which means “chiaroscuro”). A key feature of Madame Gautro’s appearance was her pale skin. She was even known for applying lavender powder, which brightened her skin even more. The colors in the picture are light, there are no sharp color changes on her skin (except for facial features). In particular, Sargent was able to masterfully visualize the neckline of the heroine with the slightest color change. The hairstyle of the heroine is a tribute to the style of the Hellenic era.

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