A Freudian Slip of the Strap?

November 3, 2010 // Filed under Uncategorized

Saturday Samplers, a Bernardsville Library book group, will discuss Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davis on Saturday, November 6, at 3:30 p.m. in the library. 

Strapless tells the fascinating story behind John Singer Sargent’s famous portrait of Mme. Gautreau. This life-size oil painting caused an absolute sensation at the Paris Salon of 1884.  Exhibited alongside hundreds of paintings by renowned and aspiring artists, Portrait de Mme ***, as Madame X  singularly attracted the disdain of both art critics and the Parisian public.

Why should this particular painting of a Belle Epoch socialite arouse such instantaneous revulsion and criticism?  After all, Mme. Gautreau was considered to be an exotically beautiful young woman known for her remarkable neckline and figure.  Why should John Singer Sargent’s work be so reviled when he had successfully exhibited paintings at previous Salons? Could the artist’s placement of her loose dress strap be enough to inflame the French or were there other factors behind their general disdain for what is now considered to be a masterpiece?  In Strapless, Sargent’s career is examined in terms of the impact this portrait had on both the artist and the sitter, Madame X.
Review by Evelyn Fischel

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