Where to see it
John Singer Sargent
Why we love it
Madame X is perhaps Sargent’s most infamous painting. Virginie Amélie Gautreau, an American aristocrat who lived in Paris, is portrayed by the most sought-after painter of the moment, creating the most iconic and controversial female portrait of the late 19th century. In an elegant black dress with a long neckline, she represents a lady of character and very modern for her time.
In the first versions, one of the straps of Madame X’s dress fell sensually on her shoulder, but the scandal was such that it had to be retouched. The painter would keep the painting until he sells it to the Metropolitan Museum, requesting that the title be changed to hide the identity of the model.
Although the painting was very poorly received at the beginning, it has subsequently had a great influence, especially in the world of fashion. Rochas or Dior have created models of black dresses with a sweetheart neckline, based on the model of Madame X.
The social tastes and values of the time, reviled the painting, but as these attitudes change, we look at these works with different eyes. We can ask ourselves questions about what really defines the popularity, legacy and fame of a work of art.