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The finished portrait

, which was exhibited as 'Madame X', belongs to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Tate Gallery's version is a full-size sketch. The sitter was the American wife of a French banker in Paris. Sargent knew her and asked her to sit for him, and deliberately planned a sensational portrait with an unconventional pose. Her head is turned into sharp profile emphasising her nose, her right arm is twisted and her shoulders exposed.

The adverse criticism of the finished portrait at the Paris Salon

of 1884 so damaged Sargent's reputation that the following year he moved to live permanently in Britain. His later portraits were never so adventurous.

May 2011