THUS PASSES THE GLORY OF THE WORLD
the mail, the buses, the cars, the cats, the garbage, the sunshine, the paint, the peeling, the ground, the sewer, the snakes
the wind, the welcome, the war, the whinny
the bend, the truth, the everlasting life
Portrait of Madame X is the informal title of this portrait painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Gautreau. The model was an American expatriate who married a French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities. She wore lavender powder and prided herself on her appearance.
Renowned for her beauty, Gautreau represented the Parisienne, a new type of Frenchwoman recognized for her sophistication. The English term ‘professional beauty’, referring to a woman who uses personal skills to advance to elite status, was also used to describe her. Her unconventional beauty made her an object of fascination for artists.
Madame X was painted not as a commission, but at the request of Sargent. It is a study in opposition. Sargent shows a woman posing in a black satin dress with jeweled straps, a dress that reveals and hides at the same time. The portrait is characterized by the pale flesh tone of the subject contrasted against a dark colored dress and background.
The scandal resulting from the painting’s controversial reception at the Paris Salon of 1884 amounted to the failure of Sargent’s strategy to build a long-term career as a portrait painter in France.