John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)
Oil on canvas
82 1/8 x 43 1/4 in. (208.6 x 109.9 cm)
Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53)
Virginie Avegno (18591915) was born in Louisiana, the daughter of Major Anatole Avegno of New Orleans, a gentleman whose family had emigrated from Camogli, Italy, and Marie Virginie de Ternant of Parlange Plantation, Louisiana. After Major Avegno died of wounds suffered at the Battle of Shiloh, Mrs. Avegno took her daughters to Paris. There Virginie became a celebrated beauty and married Pierre Gautreau, a Parisian banker. Sargent probably met her in 1881. In 1882, he wrote of wanting to paint her portrait. He worked on the portrait at the Gautreau's summer home in Brittany in 1883, but he had difficulty finding a suitable pose and perspective. Numerous studies show his different attempts at the composition. The portrait as finally executed was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1884 as "Portrait de Mme ***" and created a scandal. Sargent considered it one of his best works; an unfinished second version of the same pose is in the Tate Gallery in London.