art history meme | 7/9 paintings: Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) by John Singer Sargent (1883-84)

When Madame X was finally completed and revealled at the Paris Salon of 1884, its reception was scathing.  Although identity of the subject wasn’t revealed (hence the title Madame X), Madame Gautreau’s distinctive profile made her recognizeable. Critics complained that her skin had lavender undertones (she apparently dusted herself with lavender powder) and that her right arm was oddly and unnaturally contorted. These comments, however, paled in comparison to unanimous outrage over her dress: in Sargent’s initial version of Madame X revealed at the Salon, her right strap had slipped off to bare her right shoulder.  The decolletage hinted to some viewers of sexual impropriety or infidelity.  Gautreau’s family was mortified, and after begging Sargent to withdraw the painting, he offered to repaint the offensive strap. The Paris, however, forbade him altering Madame X until the exhibition closed.  In efforts to placate the public, Sargent ultimately repainted the strap, resulting in the portrait we now see.  

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