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Unnatural

Jimmy, TAG Member

Posted: Monday, April 23, 2012

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925). Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–84. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53)

«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.

Left: John Singer Sargent (American 1856–1925). Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–84. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond and Miss Emily Sargent, 1931 (31.43.2). Center: John Singer Sargent (American 1856–1925). Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–84. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Charles and Anita Blatt Gift, John Wilmerding Gift and Rogers Fund, 1970 (1970.47). Right: John Singer Sargent (American 1856–1925). Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–84. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond and Miss Emily Sargent, 1931 (31.43.3).

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.

Collage of reclining Madame X

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.


Which pose would you have chosen for Madame X's portrait and why?

We welcome your response to this question below.

Department(s): The American Wing
Tag(s): Madame X, clothing

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About the Author

Jimmy is a member of the Museum's Teen Advisory Group.

About this Blog

This blog, written by the Metropolitan Museum's Teen Advisory Group (TAG) and occasional guest authors, is a place for teens to talk about art at the Museum and related topics.