Virginie Avegno Gautreau (Madame X) was twenty-four when John Singer Sargent painted her portrait. He originally painted it with the right strap of her dress hanging off her shoulder, but the work received such criticism at the 1884 Parisian salon exhibition that he later repainted the strap. When Sargent sold this portrait to the Met, he asked the Museum to title the work Madame X so that she and her family would not be shamed by the painting's reception.
The dress and its style are most striking to me. Since Sargent paints Madame X in the center of the painting, her dress is very prominent. She looks like the popular girl of the late nineteenth century, dressed in the latest fashion. Her pale skin is powdered with fine lavender makeup (you can see her real skin color in the pink of her ear), her eyebrows are probably drawn on, and her hair is auburn from henna dye.
She wears a wedding ring and holds a fan in her left hand. With her right hand she effortlessly leans on the wooden table in the portrait. The table has three legs supported by nude male figures carved in the classical style. In her hair, she wears a half-moon, a symbol associated with the goddess Diana.
I think her expression makes her look uninviting, almost like she is closely watching someone. She also looks like she is showing her body off and doesn't want to be bothered with looking at the viewer. If Madame X had a motto, I think it would be: "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."
In my artwork below, I used a multicolor pencil to draw a figure and dress similar to those in Madame X's portrait but with much more movement. The figure is without a face because, like Madame X, her dress is the focus of the piece.
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