This painting, Madame X, has always appealed to me. John Singer Sargent has simultaneously captured studied elegance and privileged disdain. The model, Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, was a notorious socialite, known for her indiscretions. She was part of a new generation of sophisticates. Her beauty was intense, and there were many artists wanting to paint her. She and Sargent had a bond, both ex-patriots looking to augment their reputations by painting and posing.
Sargent captured her singularity by contrasting her stunning alabaster skin against a dark background and black dress. He was able to articulate her hourglass figure. The essence of her snobisme is the tip of her perfectly pointed nose.
While French society was shocked at the married woman who encouraged the gaze of men, I find her bold, unapologetic; an “in your face” beauty. The poor girl married into the French upper class by wedding a man twice her age. She managed to keep her independence and even her bravado in a claustrophobic situation.
Madame X elicits debate and heated argument to this day. Sargent found the image he knew was in her and that image made his reputation.