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Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X (2003)

de Deborah Davis

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The story behind the legendary John Singer Sargent painting "Madame X" that propelled the artist to international renown but condemned his subject to a life of public ridicule.
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I enjoyed this carefully researched history of Mme. Gautreau and John Singer Sargent, who painted her portrait. The author filled out their lives to let us see who they were, how they came together, what the relationship meant to each of them and then, how the scandal over the painting rocked them on their heels. The only criticism I have is that the ending, after the two leading figures died, seemed almost tacked on: a quick summation of where other paintings of Sargent's are located, brief outcomes of other persons, random bits of information as if she could not bear to leave any notecards in her pile of research. Still, most of it has vivid writing that evokes the 1880s in Paris, when art was everything! ( )
  AnaraGuard | Nov 1, 2020 |
Fun and easy to read, and I enjoyed learning more about Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, who sat for John Singer Sargent's "Portrait of Madame X."



I also enjoyed learning more about John Singer Sargent and his art, and I appreciated how the book did not limit itself to discussing "Portrait of Madame X" but put it into the broader context of Sargent's artwork. However, I would recommend reading this with an illustrated list of Sargent's works - the book does include some pictures but of course could not include pictures of every work discussed. ( )
  Jennifer708 | Mar 21, 2020 |
Fun and easy to read, and I enjoyed learning more about Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, who sat for John Singer Sargent's "Portrait of Madame X."



I also enjoyed learning more about John Singer Sargent and his art, and I appreciated how the book did not limit itself to discussing "Portrait of Madame X" but put it into the broader context of Sargent's artwork. However, I would recommend reading this with an illustrated list of Sargent's works - the book does include some pictures but of course could not include pictures of every work discussed. ( )
  Jennifer708 | Mar 21, 2020 |
While this book focuses on John Singer Sargent's famous painting of Virginie Amelie Gautreau, its creation and the reaction to it, it also tells much of his and his model's life history and the world of art in the late 19th century. Thoroughly enjoyable. ( )
  gbelik | Feb 3, 2018 |
Reading like an interesting encyclopedia article, this was a bit slow to get into, but after a while the story unfolded. John Singer Sargent was born to an American family but never lived in America until he was an adult. A talented artist, he studied in Paris with the best teachers and soon earned a reputation as a portraitist. Amelie Avegno Gautreau was the daughter of an American southerner who left the South after the Confederacy was defeated. Amelie was raised by an overbearing mother and had a distinctive French Creole look with a exaggerated nose but was still considered quite a beauty.

Living in Paris, Amelie and her mother made all the social events. Eventually, she and Sargent crossed paths and he asked to do her portrait. Although posing for the portrait was difficult for her as she had so many social obligations, she did so and the portrait was first displayed at the famous Salon, a giant exhibition of the greatest art each year in Paris. Sargent had won several years and was highly confident about the portrait of Amelie.

When the portrait was displayed, rather than being admired, it received terrible reviews. People thought it was scandalous particularly due to the fact that the strap on the seductive black dress was falling off the subject's shoulder. Although viewers were accustomed to views of nudes, this portriat was a completely new approach and people were shocked. Amelie and her mother was mortified.

An interesting story of the painter and the subject of the painting who never quite got over the shock. Sargent, however, went on to do many more portraits and the painting became knows and "Madame X" dropping Amelie's name. Today it is a classic. ( )
  maryreinert | May 30, 2016 |
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