John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)
Oil on canvas
82 1/8 x 43 1/4 in. (208.6 x 109.9 cm)
Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53) Metropolitan Museum of Art
One of my mom's favorite artists, John Singer Sargent's portraits never cease to delight the viewer.
The portrait of the young socialite in Paris, Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, was requested by Sargent instead of commissioned. Gautreau agreed to the portrait but it resulted in a scandal for the artist. "The image's erotic suggestion is of a distinctly upper-class sort: unnaturally pale skin, cinched waist, severity of profile and an emphasis on aristocratic bone structure all imply a distant sexuality "under the professional control of the sitter", rather than offered for the viewer's delectation." (Prettejohn, Elizabeth. "Interpreting Sargent", page 25. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1998.) The painting was originally shown and denounced at the Paris Salon of 1884 and at this time the right shoulder strap of the Madam's dress fell down her shoulder (Sargent later repainted its position). The painting remained in Sargent's studio (see above) for a number of years and was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1916, where it is today.