Wednesday, 16 September 2009

X


Briefly the reasons that this painting caused so much scandal to the reputations of both the artist and the sitter were the dress - evening dresses at the time were pretty low-cut, but this was more so than most, as it was cut to look as if she wasn't wearing corsets. Indeed, she wasn't, but the dress itself was heavily boned. Then there was her complexion. She valued her pale, almost luminescent skin and actually dusted her face and decolletage with rice flour, which gave her an almost lavender paleness. She also rouged the tips of her ears as a contrast! But 'painting' was not what respectable women did, not visibly so at any rate. Another thing that was daring was the lack of jewellery on show, for a rich Society lady. She wore none but her wedding ring and a gold ornament in her hair, which has recently been observed to be Diana's (the Huntress) crescent.

It was a bold and provocative pose, and this would not have been so remarkable in an artist's model - Manet's considerably more explicit Olympia had been painted 20 years before - but this was a respectable married lady. But the clincher was something that, later, Sargent painted out of the picture. Her right shoulder strap was originally painted off her shoulder. Again, acceptable in a courtesan or model's painting, but incredibly provocative, especially bearing in mind the sophisticated dress and haughty pose. Her reputation never recovered, both she and Sargent were horrified by the (to them) unexpected furore and he moved to England where, funnily enough, he was more kindly received and never put the painting on show again until after the lady died, when he sold it to an American museum (another version is in this country) with the proviso that, since she had been so upset and from respect, it should not bear her name but be labelled Madame X.

14 comments:

DUTA said...

Very interesing post! The painting and the story behind it reveal something of the hypocrisy prevalent in the society of that time.

Z said...

The nuances of society life and what was acceptable at its various levels must have been something of a minefield. Both the artist and the lady were somewhat outsiders to Parisien life so maybe didn't quite appreciate what they had done.

And welcome, Duta. I don't think I've had anyone leave a comment from Israel before!

martina said...

Imagine how shocked people of that era would be to see the way celebrities dress now!

lom said...

What a lovely picture, and martina's right if you can call what they wear wearing clothes

Dave said...

Well, if this blog is going to start posting explicit pictures I'm not sure I ought to continue to visit.

The Cloudcutter said...

Really interesting Z. Could you put a bigger picture though?

I, Like The View said...

I love Singer Sargent. . . put Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose on my wall just the other day

fascinating info on Mme X

thanks!

Z said...

I've done that for you Cc.

In later years, Sargent said it was the finest painting he'd ever done. He did hundreds of preliminary sketches of her in various poses before deciding on this one. Where it's hung now, it's put on a wall at the end of corridors and draws the view - it's bold and striking and unconventional, and therefore makes you think the woman is too. Also, with that long nose and determined chin, she's beautiful but not pretty, which is all the more dramatic and disconcerting to the nice ladies and their husbands of the day.

That was one of the commissions that restored his reputation, ILTV - beautifully painted and charming, but a lot 'safer'! I love his painting and his sometimes odd posing - have you seen the one of Robert Louis Stephenson and his wife?

Dave, you are indeed the moral majority. And I'm sure, in all your painting days, you have refused on principle to attend a life class.

Dave said...

You are correct. The only people I paint are fully clothed (usually in white).

zIggI said...

there is nothing that says "shag me senseless" more than a slipped shoulder strap - pure sex.

Z said...

Dave, I will try to restrain myself from publishing pornographic pictures in future.

Ziggi, the picture is life-size too which adds to its impact. The lecturer showed a photo of it taken at the original exhibition (comparatively recently discovered) and that shoulder strap really did take it from striking to - well yes, pure sex, emphasised by her haughty demeanour.

Sarah said...

She IS very beautiful

Z said...

At the time, she was 26 years old, married with a small child. I think she's stunning.

The Cloudcutter said...

Thank you Z! It's lovely.