Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thursday Art - John Singer Sargent

I saw the painting below at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. back in 2005 or so.  I was instantly drawn to the girl in the painting and wondered what her story was. Was she lonely?  Sad? Why was she alone? Is there a faint smile on her face?  And there's the red scarf(?) peeking out underneath from her coat, which draws your attention to her even more.  Her coat is also interesting - you can see the ends of the coat, or perhaps a big shawl, is fringed and tattered.  And her dress is white with ruffles or some sort of layering at the bottom.  At  first glance, I felt "sorry" for her but as I kept looking at the painting, I started to feel like she was a cool and independent girl, living her life the way she wants to. I was in love with this painting and the painter, John Singer Sargent.  

 Street in Venice, 1882

I've come to learn that Sargent was an American living abroad in Europe thanks to his parents' lifestyle. And that Sargent was a bachelor for life and often spent a lot of time with his friends (including other painters and authors like Henry James!). Looking at his paintings, I would have thought he was a reserved and stoic man,  not a social butterfly! In any event, during his life, he established himself as a portrait painter and painted well-to-do ladies. Madame X of course is one of his most well known portraits and apparently, caused quite a bit of scandal for the shoulder baring and cocked head position of the subject (really??).   

Madame X (1884)

Isn't Madame X beautiful?  She is timeless. We can see a beautiful lady like Madame X in today's society too, right? 

Here are some more of my favorite Sargent paintings.

 Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (1885-1886)

Rio Di San Salvatore, Venice (1903-04)

In the Luxembourg Gardens (1879) 

(See here for citation).    

p.s. Still feeling a bit tired and worn out.  When is the weekend coming??!!


  1. I LOVE John Singer Sargent, and his Venetian street scenes are indeed evocative of all sorts of imaginings and stories. I was just in Venice in September, and walked around taking pictures of so many alleys and walkways, thinking about how I was probably walking in the very same spots he stood in and painted! I've been so intrigued by the artist and his times that I've written a novel that is about to be published (February 2013) -- it focuses on the years he was in Paris when he painted Madame X and also the Daughters of Edward Darley Boit. If you're interested, please check out my new blog about JSS and the book - And don't worry, the weekend's almost here! Cheers, Mary Burns

  2. also, i LOVE Henry James, too! (He's a character in my book too!)

  3. Such beautiful work!! It's so funny how much our social norms have changed, so much so that I can't for the life of me figure out why her head position would be so controversial haha! :)

    1. seriously - today, we have ladies doing a lot more than just tilting their heads in their photos and making a living out of doing so. can you imagine if those folks saw our modern strapless evening gowns?!

  4. Having done a lot of research on the subject of Madame X, I can tell you that the original painting -- which had the strap on her right shoulder hanging down onto her arm -- caused quite a scene--but mainly because Virginie Amelie Gautreau (Mme. X) was an American socialite (though of French heritage) who "married up", (a wealthy husband of course) and became a much-talked-about "professional beauty" in the fin-de-siecle days of Paris -- so all the spiteful old guard matriarchs just detested her! So when Sargent's painting was displayed at the Salon that year, they trashed it and her--and Sargent too, another "upstart" American, in their eyes, though he had been born in Florence and lived nearly all his life in Europe, then England. Ah, the green-eyed envy! Check out the book "Strapless" by Deborah Davis, a non-fiction account of this whole scandal, really fascinating.

  5. Mary Burns, thanks for your comments and sharing your expertise. I loved that you used the word "fin-de-siecle" - that is one of my favorite fancy schmancy words. And congratulations on your novel - do let me know when it's published. I will also be checking out your blog as well!


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