The Scandalous Portrait of Madame X
The famous ‘Portrait of Madame X’, painted by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), is a gorgeous work of art. However, when it was displayed at the Paris Salon in 1884, it became highly controversial.
At the time, Sargent used the beautiful socialite, Madame Pierre Gautreau (1859-1915), as his model. He hoped this would garner more attention to his career. The original work was slightly different, where he “emphasized her daring personal style” by allowing a strap on her gown to slip off her shoulder. When the work was revealed, it caused an uproar. It was the model’s mother who was particularly infuriated, seeing her daughter’s portrait painted in such a provocative way. The portrait received more anger than admiration, leading to Sargent re-painting the strap and re-named it ‘Madame X’ for more mystery and modesty.
While the work and Sargent’s reputation led him to leave France, it also boosted his fame internationally. He was in hot demand for commissioned work after moving to London.
On the left, there is a copy of the original work is on display in the Tate, in Britain. The right shows how Sargent censored the portrait.