Sunday, October 12, 2008

John Singer Sargent: Madame X

It seems like every artist I know is obsessed with one man, John Singer Sargent. I'll admit I was late to join the Sargent craze but after yet another visit to New York and the Met I can say that Sargent's work easily out shined all the other pieces in the room. Arthur and I walked in and we could see Madame X through the doors and without hesitation we made our way over to her. It's such a beautiful, extraordinary, stylish piece, and it was drenched in controversy.

It's funny that this piece caused such an uproar after Manet shocked Paris nearly 20 years before Madame X would enter the Salon. The sexual nature of her poise and the lilac undertones in her skin not only ruined Madame Gautreau's social standings in Parisian society but removed Sargent from his throne as one of Paris' favorite American painter of the time. Yet the painting was never destroyed and consequently the piece became one of the most celebrated pieces of all time for the same reasons it was denounced in 1884.

The original piece (Left) featured Madame Gautreau with one strap down but Sargent changed this detail when he took the painting back to his studio for safe keeping. He was afraid that Gautreau's family would destroy the piece so he took it down before the exhibition's completion.

I think this is one of the most incredible portraits of all time, her skin tone and clothing are that of a unique, avant-garde, nontraditional beauty. According to Vernon Lee "Sargent's outspoken love of the exotic [and the] unavowed love of rare kinds of beauty, for incredible types of elegance like his Mme. Gautreau" are what made him such an incredible painter. Sargent's studies for Madame X are equally as devoted and beautiful. Below are his graphite and watercolor studies.