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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sometimes only an X will do . ..

If a woman, today, were sitting for a portrait, attired in a gorgeous evening gown, hair beautifully coiffed, impeccably made up, with just one little shoulder strap askew, fallen from her shoulder chances are no one would think anything of it. In fact, many would think it quite clever. The little touch of imperfection making her seem human.

This is now. But then! Then, being 1884, Paris France. John Singer Sargent, reknowned portrait painter, submitted a finished portrait of a young Paris society matron - Madame Pierre Gautreau. Admired and adored by Paris society as one of the young social hostesses with impeccable taste in all she wore or did, Madame happily agreed to sit for the famous artist. During the next several years many sittings took place. Sargent was a guest of the Gautreau family, with many opportunities to sketch Madame in preparation for the offical portrait.

The dress, the hair, the beautiful alabaster skin (enhanced by just a little tiny pinch of arsenic each day), everything was set. The painting began in earnest. After much deliberation on the subject, Sargent painted the gorgeous woman in the dead black gown in profile, everything about her image, just perfect. Except for one little strap that seemed to fall daringly off her shoulder.

That strap, or rather that fallen strap caused a scandal that ruined Madame Gautreau's reputation and sent Sargent fleeing from Paris in disgust. Sargent secured safe passage for the portrait, fearing that it would be destroyed were it to remain in France.

Today, this painting shows Madame with her straps very properly in place having been redone by Sargent. Ironically, if one were to look at the painting today, with the misplaced strap, it would probably be appreciated for that bit of decadence!

What does this all have to do with the letter X? The title of the portrait is "Madame X".

For more information about this story and additional photos of the portrait (with and without droopy strap!,  you can go to the following site -


A fictionalized telling of this story can be found in the book - Strapless.

This post is being brought to you by the letter X for Alphabe-thursday.  Join the fun. Y? (well, that is next week's letter) I guess you will have to find out then.....


  1. Loved the art lesson! Thanx♫♪

  2. No one would think anything of a fallen strap today. I guess our more casual views is a big part of our legency as Gen Xers.

    The Impostor X

  3. Wow, times have certainly changed. Now some young women go out in public without pants! Love the story and the pic!!!

  4. oh my these times are fortunately long gone, but even showing your ankle was already a shame ! I love Madame X dress !

  5. I also love that dress. It would be gorgeous to wear even now.

  6. So interesting!

    I would love to see this piece with the falling strap!


  7. This was X-special and artsy too! Lovely!

  8. To see what they think the fallen strap looked like go to the link, there is a small picture of it there.

  9. And so much of her breast is showing! I guess that wasn't as risque as a fallen strap. She is pretty! {:-Deb

  10. I have never heard this story Thanks for sharing

  11. This was quite an x-ceptional story. Thanks for the share and enjoy your weekend, Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!

  12. I know the painting, and love its lack of sentimentality because Sargent was, as many of the famous ones, before his time! So the story did not surprise me, lol! Had forgotten the title -a great Madame X!

  13. What a neat, neat link for the letter X.

    I just want that waistline!

    Or one of my thighs to be that small!

    Wow. Love this story!

    Thanks for an xcellent link for the letter X.