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First Impressions

Evelin , Genevieve , Jamilah , and Alisha
April 9, 2012

«To begin our study of John Singer Sargent's Madame X, we spent time looking at her portrait in the gallery and discussing what we found most striking about the painting.» The following remarks are some of our first impressions of Madame X:

Left: A "Wordle" comprised of TAG members' responses to Sargent's portrait of Madame X. Right: John Singer Sargent (American 1856–1925). Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) (detail), 1883–84. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53).

"I think she looks powerful because she is wearing a dress that looks expensive and is not any old 'little black dress.' I would give Madame X the motto 'Fearless' because she looks like a strong and independent woman. Her presence is commanding in this portrait, and if she was living in today's time she would have a fur coat, a hat, and more rings to show her high status."


"The most striking thing about this portrait for me is the ivory skin of Madame X in contrast to her black gown and the dark background. She looks like a modern day celebrity getting ready for a red carpet event. The portrait is very elegant yet at the same time very simplistic. It seems like Madame X is allowing the dress to speak for itself."


"I thought her dress would have been more conservative in the late nineteenth century. I would give Madame X the motto 'Only talk to me if you are worthy.' She looks like she is attending a dance (like a prom) without a date and is about to be approached by a young man."


"I found the silhouette of her body and dress the most striking. I think the portrait was painted to turn heads and bring Sargent recognition. I think what she is wearing is absolutely fabulous!"


During our conversation in the gallery we learned that Madame X was originally born in Louisiana but raised in Paris. Her maiden name is Virginie Avegno, and she became Madame Pierre Gautreau when she married a wealthy Parisian banker. In upcoming blog posts, we will share more about why this portrait is titled Madame X, Madame X's relationship with Sargent, and the scandal surrounding the painting's reception.

Next week's post, however, will discuss the teen event on April 20: a fictional murder mystery in which Madame X is murdered and we have to work together to solve the crime. Register for the event here and check out our Facebook page for fun facts about Madame X and John Singer Sargent.

TAG members discuss Madame X during one of our meetings. Photograph by Emily Perreault.

What do you think is most striking about her portrait? How old do you think she is in this portrait?

We welcome your responses to these questions below.

Evelin undefined

Evelin is a member of the Museum's Teen Advisory Group.

Genevieve undefined

Genevieve is a member of the Museum's Teen Advisory Group.

Jamilah undefined

Jamilah is a member of the Museum's Teen Advisory Group.

Alisha undefined

Alisha is a member of the Museum's Teen Advisory Group.