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Letters from Sargent to Madame Allouard-Jouan
John Singer Sargent -- American painter 
An important series of some twenty autograph letters signed, in French, to Madame Allouard-Jouan (whom he painted in 1882), about his celebrated portrait of her friend Virginie Gautreau (`Madame X'') and other work in progress, two illustrated with a small sketch
c.77 pages, 8vo, one letter written jointly by Sargent and Amélie Gautreau, some envelopes, some letters on black-edged paper, Paramé, Paris, London, Florence and elsewhere, largely undated, c. 1883 to 1889 
Jpg: Sothebys.com
From: Sothebys 


Little is known of Madame Allouard-Jouan, who presented her portrait to the Petit Palais in 1918 (the letter of acceptance is included in the lot). She may have been the wife of the sculptor Henri-Emile Allouard (1844-1929). Sargent's biographers refer only to his portrait of her and to a brief note in one of his sketchbooks with her name and abbreviated address, yet it is clear from these letters that they were on friendly terms (so much so that he felt able to tease her in his letters). He stayed with her in the country, and reported in detail to her on his work in progress.  

Madame Allouard-Jouan had a country house at Dinard in Brittany, not far from Madame Gautreau's house at Paramé. Judith Gautier (painted by Sargent in 1883-85) also built a house in the vicinity, and Sargent talks of combining a visit to her with one to Madame Allouard.  

The series begins around the time that Sargent was working on his portrait of Madame Gautreau, the American-born wife of a Paris banker, at Paramé. He had had a hard time persuading her to sit for him and she had insisted that he should come to the country to paint her. Ironically, in view of what was to follow, he notes that he is finding it much more enjoyable than he had imagined (``...c'est plus joli à faire que je ne croyais...''); he thanks Madame Allouard (which might imply that she had been instrumental in persuading her friend to sit) and suggests that they both visit him at his studio one day. Writing from Nice in July 1883, he states that he will be going to Brittany to finish the painting  

...je dois terminer le portrait de Mme Gautreau à Paramé tout à l'heure. Elle m'a promis de poser matin et soir pendant une ou deux semaines et je devais déjà être installé chez elle, mais la nouvelle d'une fluxion ou quelque chose qui la défigurait m'a décidé...d'aller faire une petite visite à Amsterdam....le portrait est déjà envoyé là-bas et je vais le suivre bientôt...  

Sargent's portrait of Virginie Gautreau caused a storm at the 1884 Salon comparable to that which greeted Manet's `Olympia' or his `Déjeuner sur l'herbe'. Entitled discreetly `Madame X', it showed the sitter in a close-fitting black gown with an ample décolleté, and a haughty demeanour. This one painting (now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York) ruined all his chances of establishing himself as a fashionable portrait painter in Paris. He refers to this in one of his letters to Madame Allouard-Jouan, when he talks of settling in England permanently: ``A Paris depuis un an ou deux j'ai si peu de commandes, l'effet du désastre Gautreau probablement...''.  

He asks his correspondent's permission to have an engraved copy of her portrait made for an article on the International Exhibition of 1889, and remarked that he will be going to Paris to paint the Singer sewing-machine heiress Princesse de Scey-Montbéliard. He also notes that he is painting the actress Ellen Terry. 

There are sometimes lengthy gaps in their correspondence, and he apologises for his neglect and asks for her news. Some of the letters are on mourning paper for his father, who died in April 1889. 

Amélie Gautreau has not been identified [since identified as the informal name of Virginie Gautreau by family and friends] (Virginie had a sister, but she was called Julie). She has added a page of text to one of Sargent's letters to Madame Allouard (``chère amie''), assuring her that the portrait is a masterpiece (``Mr Sargent a fait un chef d'oeuvre du portrait, je tiens à vous l'écrire car je suis sûre qu'il ne vous le dira pas''), and expressing her regret that she had not been able to spend a few days at Paramé on her way back from Dinard. 


Sold Sothebys London, 11 Jun 2002; Sale L02310, lot 102 (165 lots in this auction) 9,560 Great Britian Pounds 

Carolus-Duran Sketch 
series of letter from John Singer Sargent
to Madame Allouard-Jouan 

Madame X 
(Virginie Gautreau AKA Amélie) 


By:  Natasha Wallace
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Created 7/16/2003