In 1883 American portrait painter John Singer Sargent painted socialite Virginie Gautreau. With an hourglass figure, henna colored hair and her pale skin accentuated by lavender face powder, she attracted much attention. Combined with her notorious reputation she made the perfect object for a portrait painter. Sargent did over 30 studies before he painted her standing tall with her face in profile.
A year later at the Paris Salon, the work caused a scandal because of Gautreau’s provocative dress and her suggestive pose. Originally one of the straps fell off her shoulder, but due to the public’s reaction Sargent repainted the strap. Still, the outrage persisted, which meant the end of Sargent’s portrait career in Paris, while Gautreau temporarily retired from society.
The painting hangs in The American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
An earlier version, with provocative strap.Sargent in his studio in Paris, ca. 1885 © Private Collection
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