Madame X is painted in profile, much like many of the Italian Renaissance portraits that we've studied. Yet unlike the Renaissance portraits, this work presents a full-length view of its subject, Madame Pierre Gautreau. I find the contrast between her white skin and the dark dress very striking. This contrast illuminates her silhouette and, in my opinion, makes her figure the most important aspect of the portrait. By using a muted palette of colors and painting her in profile, I think Sargent makes her look mysterious.
Madame Pierre Gautreau was known in Paris for her beauty, and Sargent—only three years older—pursued her to paint this portrait. To me, her pose seems unnatural; she is very tense and seems frozen. Sargent chose this pose from a number of sketches he made while spending time with Madame Pierre Gautreau at her summer home.
I decided to create an alternate portrait of Madame X to present her as more relaxed. In my artwork below, I placed her sleeping on a luxurious bed. In order to contrast the overall dark tone of the original portrait, I used more color in my work.
Check back next week to read about the scandalous reception of Sargent's Madame X and why Sargent asked the Met to disguise the sitter's name in the title.
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