Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Another artists obsession?

Not sure what happened but I seem to have inadvertently deleted this post along with the comments before I could reply to them sorry for that.
At various times John Singer Sargent’s relationship with Madame Gautreau has been portrayed as an obsession but it can as easily be seen as an ambitious artist looking for a subject that would enhance his reputation.
Madame Virginie Amelie Gautreau was the toast of Paris at the time and other artists also wanted to paint this beautiful socialite. Originally from New Orleans she was from a wealthy French Creole family, her father Anatole Placide Avegno was an oficer in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War; he was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and later died of his wounds in 1862.
Her mother also Virginie brought Amelie to Paris in 1867 at the age of eight. By the time Amelie was 19 she had married the French banker Pierre Gautreau.

Like Mary Robinson and Emma Hamilton who I wrote about before she relied on her Beauty to boost her esteem in society. Unlike the previous two she had an ambitious mother who managed her campaign.
Sargent by 1882 was well established and accepted by the Salon with successful works such as El Jaleo.

El Jaleo 1882
 Sargent never chose the traditional subjects of academic painting for example classical mythological nudes, biblical or historical epics. Nether did he chose the subjects from contemporary Parisian life that fascinated the Impressionist, he did not paint prostitutes, barmaids, ballet girls or the French bourgeoisie.
In these early days Sargent did not want to be known as a portraitist, however portraits paid and he had to make a living. He was determined to become a successful artist and be accepted by the same upperclass Paris society that Amelie moved in.

Dr Pozzi at Home 1881
 Dr Pozzi was a distinguished Paris Physician and the reputed lover of Madame Gautreau so Sargent probably first encountered her while painting the Pozzi portrait.
Having decided that Madame Gautreau would make a suitable subject he had to persuade her that he was the man for the job! Ben del Castillo and Madame Allouard-Jouan were both friends of Sargent and Amelie so were asked to be intermediaries and put in a good word for Sargent. Amelie had already turned down other artists who had approached her with the same proposal. Dr Pozzi had been pleased with his portrait and that probably helped, so in 1883 Amelie consented to Sargent’s request.
The rather long planing stages then began during which Sargent selected the gown he wished her to pose in, a dress by Felix Paussineau.

This was a very important painting for Sargent so the numerous quick studies were part of trying to get to know the model and work out what he was going to do with the final portrait.

Sargent was very frustrated by the laziness and willfulness of Amelie who he could never get to sit for him with all the distractions of Paris life.

Eventually he had to wait until she moved to Brittany for the summer to start further studies for the painting.

He eventually chose a standing pose which was finished during that summer in Brittany.
Back in Paris it would seem that Sargent was unsure of the painting and started a second version for the Salon that was never finished. Carolus Duran saw the original and assured Sargent that the first was fine and he should show it.

Unfinished copy

The painting as shown at the 1884 Salon with the fallen strap
 The intention had been to consolidate his position as a society painter, but the reality resulted in a serious scandal. The reason for the uproar was that it was to close to the truth and showed Madame Gautreau as the Professional Beauty who had used her wiles to cross the Class Boundaries of Paris society. Amelie never fully recovered from the clamour and Sargent left Paris for London under a cloud. The painting was kept by Sargent and displayed first in his Paris and then his London studio.

By the time Amelie died in 1915 Sargent was unassailably established as a eminent artist and the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York was pleased to buy the painting when he offered it to them in 1916.

Madam X


Unknown said...

What a great story! thanks.
That which ruins a lady's reputation seems so ridiculous when being judged through the lens of time.

Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors

Journeyman said...

Yes it was quite a story Mimi, and looked at under present day standards it’s difficult to understand why such a painting should lead to a scandal.
:) Dave

Susan said...

So fascinating! I have seen this painting at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC many times and I always impressed by its powerful presence, how masterfully it is conceived and painted and how intense is the character of the subject. It is a true masterpiece. As David McCullough said in his book The Greater Journey, "But what was unacceptable to “tout Paris” was the blatant, self-centered impropriety of it all—the heavy powder, the odd, arrogant pose, the d├ęcolletage. Such vulgar flaunting was simply not done by women of social standing."
Thanks for a wonderful post, Dave!

Journeyman said...

That’s a great quote from David McCullough Susan, succinct and to the point. I’ve just looked up his book it looks like a good read, thanks for the pointer.
There is quite a good collection of Sargent’s paintings in the UK. I was looking at two landscapes recently in Cardiff. Both oil paintings and absolutely wonderful the way he plays with the light.

Francesca Miller said...

I'm over a year late but always love to read about Madame X. I must correct one small point. Dr. Pozzi and Madame Amelie were not lovers. Pozzi was a newlywed when Sargent painted him and did not know Madame Gautreau. The whole Pozzi/Gautreau connection is purely an American invention after the Hammer Museum displayed his portrait. In fact, there is no evidence that Madame Gautreau had a string of lovers or was anything other than a Parisian matron. Pozzi met Madme Gautreau at a tea his wife hosted in 1884. She later sough his services as a surgeon. She survived the operation, sat for a few more portraits then retired from society after the deaths of her mother and her daughter, Louise. www.doctorpozzi.com

Journeyman said...

First thank you for your comment Francesca, secondly I must apologize for not responding before this but as you can see the blog has become rather static and I missed your comment.
Most of the research for this blog comes from books and very little from the Internet. For the series on Sargent I used information gleaned from the following books. John Singer Sargent by Kate F. Jennings,
John Singer Sargent by Charles Merrill Mount,
Interpreting Sargent by Elizabeth Prettejohn,
Strapless by Deborah Davis.

Of cause even books though more reliable than the Internet can get things wrong and at this distance in time lots of supposition will creep in.

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