Painted in 1884, yet remaining unsold until 1916 due to the immense scandal it caused, John Singer Sargent's Madame X is a masterpiece of form and composition. When it sold it went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where it has remained to this day. Upon its sale Sargent commented that "I suppose it is the best thing I have ever done."
This reproduction from life of the likeness of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau, is a study of contrasts and oppositions. The pearl-white tones of her skin, offset against the velvet black of her dress create a feeling of awe in the viewer, and reflect the dramatic swings of this notorious society figure who was famed for her beauty and affairs. Painted not on commission but at the personal request of Sargent, the canvas was first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1884. The sitter, Gautreau was ecstatic; believing herself to be the subject of a masterpiece. Yet the general publics were utterly scandalized, the identity of the sitter (attempted to be masked by the title 'Madame X') was discovered and Sargent was pressured to remove the painting from the exhibition. Although initially objecting to complaints by stating he had painted her only as she was dressed, Sargent unfortunately bowed further to public pressure and re-painted the strap of her dress, raising the hem slightly.
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