John Singer Sargent [1856-1925] in His Studio with the Painting of Madame X

Adolphe Giraudon French

Not on view

This rare albumen print shows John Singer Sargent in his studio on the Boulevard Berthier in Paris circa 1885. The photograph gives a view of the eclectic décor of Sargent’s studio, including some of the objets d’art, textiles, and rugs that he collected on his travels. Importantly, several of his own paintings are on display. At right, he poses in front of the small easel painting The Breakfast Table (1883-84, Harvard University Art Museum), a portrait of his sister Violet. The iconic portrait Madame X (1883-84, The Met) is presented prominently at center. On the wall above and behind Madame X is his copy of Dwarf with Dog, then thought to be by Velazquez, from the collection of the Prado Museum. Barely visible in the left background is Sargent’s piano. He was an accomplished pianist who often played for his patrons when they visited his studio. The aesthetic interior reveals his careful crafting of his artistic persona. The art and objects that decorate his studio were selected to reveal his cosmopolitan taste and stylishness for potential patrons.

This image dates to a significant moment in his career in the mid 1880s as he prepared to leave Paris and settle in London (1886) for the rest of his life. The photograph shows Madame X with her right shoulder strap in the upright position. When Sargent first exhibited the portrait at the Paris Salon in 1884, her right strap was shown sliding off her shoulder. Viewers were scandalized by this motif and the portrait in general. Sargent took the painting back to his studio and corrected the shoulder strap. Though he was devastated by this reception, he was proud of the painting and would later call it "the best thing I’ve done." That he posed with the painting in his studio is a significant reminder of his esteem for the portrait.

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