Sunday, September 21, 2008

Strapless by Deborah Davis

When I saw John Singer Sargent's Portrait of Madame X for the first time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, I didn't anything about the painting's history. I just thought the picture was beautiful. The placement at the museum ensures that she's seen from a distance.

After I left the museum, I wanted to know more about this painting.

That's when I learned about the scandal this painting caused. This painting created such an uproar, it ruined Singer Sargent's career for a while.

There are a few books written on the subject. I found this one at the library and enjoyed it quite a bit.

It's a nonfiction book, but written in such a way that it reads as easily as a novel. It tells the story of how Singer Sargent wanted to paint Virginie Gautreau, an American living in Paris. She's described as the "it" girl at the moment. He believed painting her would be advantageous to his career. But everything backfired on both of them.

The picture, because one strap of the dress was depicted as falling off her shoulder, was deemed too scandalous. The pale skin and haughty look on the subject's face were considered offensive. According to the critics, she looked as if she were ready for or had just had sex.

The book reveals quite a bit about the artist, as well as the subject and the effects of the scandal.

I thought the book provided an entertaining way to gather some art history. I'd recommend to anyone who wanted to know more about this painting.

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