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Madame X

Subject: Paul Delvaux & Madame X both transend time 
From: Umberto Vettori
v et> 
Date: 4-23-01 

[Editor's note: The letter has been edited for readability only] 

I premise this by saying that I'm just an occasional frequenter of figurative arts even if my interest is rapidly growing. (Just for a question of fairness - I know at least something of you, whereas you nothing about me - I am a 55 years old, chemistry researcher). I wanted to let you know of my impression of your site because I think it is helps creators understand if the target has been reached, etc.  

Briefly, I was looking at some Paul Delvaux paintings [Flemish Surrealist Painter, 1897-1994]  when I fell upon a portrait by a certain John Singer Sargent (I blushed with shame but till that moment I did not know of his existence!) and I was immediately captured by the intensity of the character of the subject, and his vitality.  

Perhaps this sensation was enhanced by the contrast with the fixed expression of the women that dwell in Delvaux's scenes [see paintings], their absence of emotion that contrast with their naked offered bodies creating a sense of displacement of the real subject being its' denial. It is these opposites often found in dreams (why in our own language, and others, the word dream is used in the sense of our hope for beautiful things to happen? It comes probably before Sigmund Freud).  

With this in mind, comparing these bare alien women with the dressed sensuality of "Madame X" it appears evident that the eroticism is subtle, brought on by subduing contrasting elements and thereby creating instability, a sort of oscillation between the different poles of our emotions. Madame X is an example of this subtlety and consequently it tickles our fantasy and eroticism.  

If a good portraiture reproduces the likeness of its sitter. The optimum catches the character of the subject. But even in this last case, the portraits often do not contain elements that open the dimension of time. Indeed they fix the character in a closed immutable instant precluding any possibility of development.  

But not here with Madame X. On the contrary, this painting transcends her time. The enchanted spectator is waiting for madame to turns her gaze and attention towards us. Sargent's choice of showing this young woman in profile is perfect since it places the viewer in the position of voyeur. This intriguing situation, even if owing to the sleeping lover was well depicted in the wonderful poetry "Amorosa Anticipación" by Jorge Luis Borges. These simple considerations are by themselves sufficient to make John Sargent not a good, nor an optimum, but an excellent painter.  

Sorry for my wandering; I was talking about you and how I began to browse the many pages dedicated to Sargent's paintings. When I entered Natasha's site I felt like a friend had taken me by the hand and was leading me all around to see with her the things that she loved. Because there is no doubt in your love for John's work. It is so strong and contagious it had an immediate effect on me, and has made me a new admirer.  

Thank you once again from a new member of the family of Sargent evaluators.  


Sorry for the poor English 


Subject: Accolades 
From: Umberto Vettori
ve tt> 
Date: 5-2-01 

Thank you very much for your proof reading. It does absolute  justice of my thoughts and makes it readable at the same time. And thank you for considering it worthy to appear on your forum devoted to Madame X. 

I profit by the occasion of this reply to add some thoughts for my reasons why I liked your work.  

Jump to Accolades

From: Natasha 

Welcome to the family, Umberto.  

It's very rewarding to know that my unconventional personal approach has been welcomed by you and others. 

Though I wasn't familiar with Borges before: wow! I just love getting turned on by new things. The reference to "the sleeping lover" reminded me of Henri Gervex's painting of "Rolla 

Henri Gervex: Rolla 

As for your English, you've done wonderfully. I hope I've captured your thoughts which only needed minor paraphrasing. 


Editor's note -- In 1884, Ralph Curtis was concerned about JSS moving towards the  Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which he stated at the end of his letter to his parents. Previously, I thought the abbreviation "wh" might have stood for the PRB painter John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). but in his charming note, Tom set me straight.  

From: Tom Barrett 


what a delightful page you have regarding Madame X, my fave JSS portrait.  I would suggest to you though that the "wh." in Curtis' letter is probably an abbreviation for "which" as you will note that neither the William nor the Waterhouse in J.William Waterhouse's name begins with "wh.". 

Also, I have read two things that I didn't see mentioned--1) that Madame Gautreau powdered her skin with lavender powder, 2) that she rouged her ears.  hence the interesting coloring of the portrait... 

incidentally, i don't know if you speak french, but i do so if you need any translating done, let me know! :) 

It's always a pleasure to meet fellow fans of JSS.  Oh and I'm also a big follower of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood--which I saw was new to you!  JSS's painting of Madame Gautreau would have been right in line with their aims of 1849, based on John Ruskin's treatise--fidelity to nature--even if it happens to powder itself with lavender!

From: Natasha 

Dear Tom,  

Oh thank you, thank you. 

I love getting letters like yours. It's such a reward to hear from other people that have enjoyed my Sargent pages as much as I've enjoyed putting them together.  

I'm sure I'm talking out of school here but I thought that Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was heavy into symbolism and themes where Sargent wanted none of that. Is that an over simplification of PRB? 

You know, I think you're right. The letters "wh." much be an abbreviation for the word "which". Gosh I kind of feel silly, but for the life of me I've never seen that abbreviation used before. But sure, you must be right, now that I look at it. Of course I knew that "wh." does not appear in any of the names John, William or Waterhouses but I was thinking, and quite mistakenly I think now, that "wh." stood for w-water h-house -- not a real abbreviation but some kind of shorthand.. 

I think I had heard or recently read that Madame Gautreau powdered her skin but I never read that she rouged her ears. 

You're very kind in your remarks and very generous in your offer of help. 

I am most appreciative and sincerely yours, 



Tom wrote back and said he was probably mistaken about the ears.

From: Natasha Wallace 

In 1905 JSS exhibited for the first time Madame X (1884) publicly since the the 84 Salon. In that same year Madame Gautreau  writes Sargent requesting that he show her portrait in Germany 

Q Did Gautreau's letter precede the exhibit or did it come after? 

It is very odd that after 22 years, Sargent would just start exhibiting what would be, by then, a hugly public curiosity, popular, and controversial painting of Madame X.  

In searching through the literature, I ran across a reference to Madame Gautreau's letter in Charteris' book, when Sargent mentions it the following year in a letter to Major Roller (p.64-65): 

"Plazzo Barbaro, 
October 3rd, 1906 

My dear Roller, 

I think I know what Mme. Gautreau wants to see me about. She wrote me last year of a matter of vital importance -- it was that the Kaiser who was such a dear, thought her portrait the most fascinating woman's likeness that he has ever seen, and that he wishes me to have an exhibition in Berlin of my things. I wrote that I was abroad and couldn't manage it. But to tell you the truth, I don't want to do it. It is a tremendous trouble for me to induce a lot of unwilling people to lend me their "pautrets" and Berlin does not attract me at all. So if you are taken into Mme. Gautreau's confidence, and I wish you would tear your shirt for it, please discourage her from giving me the K.K. command. 

Yrs. sincerely, 
John S. Sargent" 

(He did eventually exhibit in Germany) 

So the interesting question is: did Gautreau's request release Sargent's self imposed exile from public exhibition of what he himself considered his greatest work; or did he do so on his own by showing it at the Carfax Gallery, London, for what Ferber and Gallati write (in their book called Masters of Color and Light) as John's attempt to draw larger audiences to his watercolors? 

The question is interesting only in what it might reveal of the person. If he exhibits only after Gautreau's approval. It shows John's continued respect and sensitivity to Gautreau feelings after all these years regarding her own portrait, even though she disavowed it during the traumatic exhibition of 1884 and they parted anything but friends. 

If however, he breaks his self imposed exile, why did he wait until 1905? It was only seven years after the scandal that Gautreau again was painted, this time  by Gustave Courtois, in a very similar pose in profile, with in an even more daring dress and again with the dress strap off her shoulder -- by then times had changed. Clearly he could have shown it sooner; and clearly there would have been huge demand to have done so. 

It would seem to me that Guatreau's letter preceded Sargent's exhibition. You can read within Sargent's letter to Major Roller, a continued bitterness regarding Guatreau and her family and his rejection at the salon. Though he does eventually exhibit in Germany. 

But in answering this question, it would seem to hindge on how and when the Kaiser had requested her portaite and I'm not sure we could ever find that out. Or if we had Guatreau's letter to Sargent, but I don't know if it was saved.

Subject: portrait of Mme Gautreau by Antonio de la Gandara 
From: Patrick Van de Velde 
pv  nd 
Date: 3/25/00 

Did you know that Antonio de la Gandara (Paris, 1861-1917) painted a remarkable (according to Mme Gautreau's family) portrait of Mme Gautreau? The information was provided by the Frick Collections in New York. 

Would you be able to tell me if Sargent and Gandara knew each other? 

Thank you very much in advance. 

Patrick Van de Velde 

From: Patrick Van de Velde 
pv  an 
Date: 3/25/00 

Dear Natasha, 

Thank you - a lot - for this prompt and interesting reply. And for adding my question to your Forum. 

The only picture I have if I recall well (it is in a file in Brussels and I am in Thailand) is a rather poor photocopy. But as soon as I can, I'll try to scan it for you. 

I attach the text of an article by W.B. Denmore on Gandara. Denmore mentions the portrait of Mme Gautreau by  the French artist. (Please note that I received a typed version of this text and that I have not seen the original. The date of publication is my own guess. During spring 1898 Gandara was in the USA. I found no evidence of any other visit to America). According to 
unverified information, the portrait (2.16 m x 1.16 m - ?) won the Gold Medal at Munich's exhibition in 1900. Painted some time between 1896 and 1898 (?) it was also exposed in Paris, Boston, and Vienna. . 

The Frick Collections have a 200-page unpublished manuscript by Mettha Westfeldt Eshleman entitled "Madame Gautreau, née Virginie Avegno". The text is in English and talks about Sargent and Gandara. Mrs. Eshleman is the grand-daughter or grand-niece of Mme Gautreau (again, most of my documents are in Brussels and I can only rely upon my memory). 

I hope the above is interesting. 

Best regards, 

Patrick Van de Velde. 
From: Patrick Van de Velde 
pva nd 
Date: 6/7/00 

Dear Natasha, 

I may have found evidence that Gandara and Sargent knew each other. The following text was published in 1902 under the title "Current Art : The Salons of 1902" in the "Magazine of Art - May 1902 (? - handwriting unclear on the photocopy I have)" : 

"Portrait painting is, as usual, strongly represented by numerous canvases, of which only a few are really interesting. The chief attractions of the Salon in this class of work are Mr. Sargent's portraits of "The Misses Wertheimer", and of "Mrs. Baten Singing" to which the artist has added a delightful picture of "Delafosse" the pianist. M. Blanche is well represented by his portraits of "Cottet", of "Paul Adam", and of "The Younger Barres", studies of solid workmanship and a sound scheme of colour. M. de la Gandara exhibits a fascinating portrait of "Madame S." remarkably free and graceful."  
(source: The New York Public Library'sArtists Files. )
Hope you are well. 


From: Patrick Van de Velde 
pv an 
Date: 6/13/00 

Good news ! 

A correspondent informs me that the following URL provides information on a book by Patrick Chaleyssin -- "La Peinture Mondaine de 1870 à 1960" -- that includes pictures of both portraits we were talking about (Madame Gautreau by Sargent and by Gandara). 

Best regards, 




I've heard of Gustave Courtois' portrait of her but not Gandara's. 

The short answer is I don't know if he knew him, I'll keep my eyes out for the name.  

He would be five years junior to Sargent. The Madam X scandal was when Sargent was 28, he left Paris permanently shortly after. Antonio would have been about 23. Once Sargent left Paris I don't think he cultivated a lot of new friends from Paris (he kept his old ones but he distanced himself form many new contacts). It's possible that they knew each other, but probably not very well if at all -- if I were to guess --  given their age difference and the level of their ability at the time Sargent left Paris. 

I'd love to run down the image of this painting. 

Dear Patrick, 

Oh that would be so wonderful, send the image you have – just so we have an idea of what the painting looks like. I am posting the copy of the Magazine article you sent as well, I DID find it 
interesting and if Antonio de la Gandara was in Paris at the age of 14 studying painting than he MIGHT have known Sargent, or a better chance of knowing him I would think. 




From: Natasha 
Date: 6/7/00 

Thanks Patrick, 

That is a great find. It certainly gives a lot of weight to the theory of  the two of them knowing OF each other, but the Salon was a big place (as you know) with a lot of paintings and a lot of painters and I'm not sure Sargent was at each opening of every show. I know from other books that for his American shows he often sent his paintings on without him. But it would seem now more possible if not more probable that they knew each other. 



Are you back in Brussels now? Any chance of getting the black and white image of Gautreau? 

I looked into The Frick Collections for  Mettha Westfeldt Eshleman unpublished manuscript. I know they have it because they're using a Sargent painting on their web-page banner, but I couldn't find it in their online search catalogue. I suppose you have to go their in person to see it. 
Sounds good, I'll look for it. -- Nat

Subject: Madame Pierre Gautreau on wood board 
From: Faun Boyer 
B  ob-Fa 
Date: 5/3/2001 

In l992 at the Vieques Inn, Vieques Island, P.R., I saw the most beautiful painting (huge, wall size, painted on wood I believe) of Madame X (they said).  It is of the likeness of Madame Pierre Gautreau and style.  I''ve  not seen any copies of this in books about Sargent or Websites.  She is seated on a gold couch with legs extended on length of couch and has on a white flowing gown and white slippers.  There is a small side table next to the couch with a black figural statue on it.  There's a bouquet of white roses on the floor.  

I know nothing about paintings but was fascinated with that painting and looked in books from the library on Sargent but have never seen this particular painting mentioned. Also her face is painted in profile like the other Madame Pierre Gautreau paintings. The young couple that ran the hotel said they were from N.J. ( I believe) and were art dealers there and gave it up live on Vieques Island, P.R. Have always been curious about that painting.  I did take a picture of it. 

Faun Boyer 


From Natasha: 

Dear Faun 

I personally haven't heard of it. Will post the note.

From: Deborah Davis
d dav> 
Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2002  

Dear Natasha, 
Your website is amazing  --  a real labor of love that is very impressive.   . . .I am writing a book about her and I would welcome any help from your many Madame X aficionados. . . . . 

Thu, 24 Apr 2003  
My book on Madame X, STRAPLESS, will be coming out in July.  I would love to send you a copy when the hardcovers are ready. . . .   Thank you Natasha, for your wonderful work on  Sargent's behalf. 
Deborah Davis 
email: dd avi 


From: Natasha  
Date: 29 April 2003 

How many pages did it end up being and were the Gautreau family of any help? It was my impression they aren't too excited about everyones take on their infamous relative -- oh well, right? It was one of those stories that was just begging for a book for some time. I have to admit that I myself, many moons ago thought of taking it on myself but decided that the time and expense (travel etc) would put it out of my reach -- and then I had never done anything like that so I never perused it and did what I've done instead.  

I look forward to reading it -- very eager too in fact and hope I can be of help in getting the word out -- keep me informed. 

From:  Bob Diven
b o  b @ bobdiven. com 
Date: Tue, 24 May 2005


As a fellow lover of Sargent, I thought you of all people should know about a show I've created.  "John Singer Sargent: Painting Madame X" recently debuted at the Black Box Theater in my home city of Las Cruces, New Mexico.  It's a one-man show that I wrote and for which I've recreated Sargent's sketches of Virginie Gautreau, as well as the Salon version of his Portrait of Madame X.  I was directed by Tony-Award winning playwright Mark Medoff (Children of a Lesser God).  It's a 40-minute piece and features a bit of Sargent-esque piano noodling, banjo strumming and singing, as well as drawing as Sargent works on a cartoon for one of his mural projects.  I set the show in his London studio on the evening in January, 1916, when he makes the decision to sell Madame X to the Met.  He has received word of Gautreau's death, and finds himself compelled to overcome his usual reserve and tell the story of her painting and their relationship.

I discovered your website about the mid-point in my research, and found it very helpful for tracking down those extra details I needed to better portray the man.

I've been a professional painter and performer for 25 years, and felt that I could bring a reality to the depiction of the man and artist that Sargent was.  Right now I'm developing a tour of the show, starting in my region, but expanding across the country.  If you'd like more information, I'm happy to supply it.  Also, if you or your readers are interested, I would appreciate any assistance in finding appropriate venues to perform in.  I've designed the show to be portable and technically simple, as my vision was to bring it to art museum auditoriums.

I'm attaching a photo of me as Sargent, standing before my recreation of Madame X.  You might appreciate the reference to Sargent's studio portrait from after the Salon.  I'll also attempt to attach one of the reviews of the show.

All the best.

Bob Diven
P.O. Box 2781
Las Cruces, NM 88004-2781

Bob Diven as Sargent in
"John Singer Sargent: Painting Madame X"

From: Natasha

Yes let me know how it goes Bob and  . . . .

Break a paintbrush!!!!



“Gandara’s portraits” 
Metropolitan Magazine pp. 613-614 (August 1898 ???) 

“A de la Gandara enjoys, it is true, an enviable reputation, for although only in his early thirties, he is Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and a member of the jury of the Champ de Mars; nevertheless he is still carving out the lines of his future, “working towards posterity”, as if it had been aptly exiled, and each new canvas holds within itself the power to emphasize his resolution for better or for worse.  

Gandara, unlike most of the foreign artists who come to this country to seek international fame and fortune, is esentially a portrait painter and has made his reputation such. From the day he entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts as a lad of fourteen, and year after year as he carried off one important prize after another it was in portraiture, and in portraiture only that he achieved distinction. His collection of portraits recently on exhibition et Durand-Ruel’s is peculiarly interesting and presents Gandara as the exponent of a styly both original and, in a way, unique. The portrait of Mme Sara Bernhardt, which won him the coveted decoration of Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur in 1892, is considered his “chef-d’oeuvre”. The government made strenuous efforts to purchase it for the Musée du Luxembourg. But the great Sara, who had received the portrait as a gift from her son, resisted all overtures, and it was only after strong influence was brought to bear that she permitted M. Gandara to bring the painting to America. Although Gandara has been an ardent worshipper at the shrine of Velasquez, Van Dyck and Gainsborough, and stood first in the classes of his teachers, Gerome and Cabanel, his works do not in the least suggest the influence of any of his masters. He is, as has been said before, an exponent of the modern school, an individualist and an impressionist.  


Page 2 
His painting of Mme Bernhardt, for instance, and that of the famous beauty, Mme Gautreau, show the full length figures, clothes in shimmering white satin, standing out in strong profile against a dark background. The drawing is strong and free, there is a marked absence of detail, and although the colors are almost neutral, the lights and the shadows are so skillfully handled that the face and hair rise from the draperies with extraordinary luminosity of effect. 
The recently completed portrait of Mrs. Burke-Roche, a prominent society woman in New York, must now be counted as work that has come from the brush of the young artist. It possesses qualities of warmth and temperament that rank above the celebrated profile figure of Bernhardt. As in the painting of the latter, Mrs. Burke-Roche, a tall slender figure in white silk, stands in a strong white light against a most beautiful background of Rembrandt effect. Over the shoulders is a gauze scarf held together at the throat by the hand. 
It is full of feeling and atmospheric effects, suggests that the impressionistic school ... 

Gandara speaking of his art, says : ‘Painting it is true, should appeal to the higher emotions, but beyond all else, it is the art of the senses. It should touch the eyes by a kinship with flesh and blood. There should be life, color, glow, warmth, and brilliancy. Painting is a grace given to the eyes and this fact must never be forgotten. Brilliancy of color should be the ideal rather than a reaching for effects through neutral tints. When I have a portrait to paint I study my subject for two or three days until I begin to feel his other personality - individuality is perhaps a better word - but I do not attempt to put the brush to canvas. I become nervous and anxious until a sort of vision forms itself in my mind. When it is fully lived I feel as though I had regained my liberty... ”