In Gioia Diliberto’s novel, I Am Madame X, Gautreau reasserts her place in history, recounting her days as a celebrated beauty, fawned over by society columnists and coveted by men. Her provocative sartorial choices—including the famous black dress—and brazen love affairs earned her a prominent position in the scandal sheets. But in Diliberto’s imagination, it is Gautreau’s devotion to her daughter that produced the unusual posture of the portrait: “I heard Louise crying. . . . I turned quickly, pushing off with my hand from a round Empire table, and twisting and stretching my neck. One of my dress straps slid off my shoulder. . . . ‘Hold that pose!’ he shouted.” (Andrea Thompson)
Strapless: Madame X and the Scandal That Shocked Bell Epoque Parisby Deborah Davis (2)
In the Early 1880s, Parisian gossip columns were bursting with news of twenty-three-year-old Virginie Amelie Gautreau, whose stunning looks and unconventional behavior had made her the city's hottest "it girl." The fame-hungry Gautreau soon met John Singer Sargent, an up-and-coming artist eager to collaborate on a portrait that would catapult them both to the pinnacle of society. Sargent's painting of Gautreau was shown at the 1884 Paris Salon. But while Sargent, the American son of vagabond parents, rose to lasting stardom, Gautreau -- cultivated since childhood to be admired and envied -- was ridiculed, then utterly forgotten. How did their destinies come to be so sharply overturned? The answer, Deborah Davis reveals in Strapless, lies in Sargent's portrait. Madame X, as it hangs today in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, depicts Gautreau in a black gown with two jeweled shoulder straps. But in the original painting, one strap fell from Gautreau's upper arm in an intimation of sex -- igniting a critical frenzy that shattered Gautreau's reputation and sent Sargent in flight to England.
Drawing on previously unexamined family papers and documents discovered in libraries and private collections, Davis explores the tantalizing mysteries at the heart of Madame X. Why did Sargent paint his subject in such a deliberately provocative manner, and why did Gautreau acquiesce? Could they have anticipated that a fallen strap would shock even decadent Belle Epoque Paris -- and agreed that celebrity would be worth the scandal? If so, what later moved Sargent to repaint Gautreau's strap to sit chastely on her shoulder? With its revelations about Gautreau's identity and an eyebrow-raising cast of characters including Richard Wagner, Henry James, Sarah Bernhardt, and Dr. Samuel Pozzi, Gautreau's notorious gynecologist/lover, this enthralling account exposes the Dorian Gray-like tale of beauty and infatuation, obsession and betrayal, that lies behind Sargent and Gautreau's masterpiece.
- Penguin Group (USA)
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.84(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.09(d)
- Age Range:
- 14 Years
Meet the Author
Deborah Davis is the author of Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and his Black and White Ball (Wiley, April 2006), and Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X (Tarcher/Putnam, 2003). Her most recent book is The Secret Lives Of Frames: One Hundred Years of Art and Artistry (Filapacchi, 2007).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Highly lucid and packed with juicy tidbits set into their proper historical context, this is a wonderfully readable tale of a vain woman (the inevitable product of her times)and an amazingly talented painter. Ms Davis puts us there with them. The beautiful reproductions add immeasurably to our understanding of the paintings. A gift for anyone interested in art, or for lovers of historical fiction, as it reads like the best of that genre. I put it in a class with Anna Karenina, Portrait of a Lady and the Red and the Black for describing the upper class Europeans' lives at different points in history.
Madame X will always be a little mysterious-that's part of her charm. But this book does a great job of bringing the woman and her world to life. I was fascinated by all the details about life in Paris and I thought Davis did a great job of making all that art interesting and understandable. I loved it!
This was a very disappointing book! Thankfully the author gives credit to her researchers,which pretty much leaves her with credit for nothing. What an opportunity lost! Sargent was a magnificent talent! Madam X was certainlly an interesting story, with big names and scandals enough for a soap opera. Yet the author wrote neither a good novel nor a good biography. The writng is so bad it is irritating to read. The organization and structure is even worse. The book does not even inlude a list of illustrations! Size information is available for only the color prints, and this information is tucked away in the back of the book. Framing is only referred to once--the missing original frame for Madam X which apparently disappeared after the painting was removed from it for shipping to California. All the way around, this lady needs to restrict her writing to Hollywood, leaving the art world alone--if this is her best effort.
Strapless is a wonderful book, well-written and just the cup of tea for art lovers and information junkies alike. With a deft hand, Davis fills us in on the lives of John Singer Sargent and his prize subject, Virginie Amelie Gautreau; and moves on to color in the many friends and acquaintances of each of them the way an artist fills in his/her palette. Extraordinarily well researched, Strapless is an enjoyable read; and when it's over, we have gained invaluable insight into the chiaroscura of an Age.
I thought Strapless would be an art book, so I was surprised to read a colorful account of a really interesting scandal. The characters are fascinating and very much like people today. The book also has gorgeous reproductions of Sargent's works.
I found Strapless to be smart,informative and full of colorful anecdotes. I never thought about this painting before, but now I won't stop thinking about it. Hats off to Davis for a great book
Such a good story, but I am sorry that it was put forth by this author, who lacks so much of the insight and scholarship needed. It was interesting to note in the author's bio that she is a former movie exec and story analyst, professions known for skimming over big topics and a strained, lackluster imagination. Sadly, I think this applies to the book's writing as well.