Palazzo dei Diamanti (Ferrara, Italy): Boldini and Fashion
N04102 STUDY OF MME GAUTREAU c. 1884
Canvas, 81 1/4×42 1/2 (206·5×108).
Presented by Lord Duveen through the National Art-Collections Fund 1925.
Coll: Sargent Sale, Christie's, 24 July 1925 (79); withdrawn by arrangement with the members of the Sargent family and acquired by Sir Joseph (later Lord) Duveen for presentation to the Tate Gallery.
Exh: R.A., winter 1926 (451, repr. Illustrations of the Sargent Exhibition, p.62).
Lit: N.A.C.F. Report 1925, 1926, p.17, repr.; Charteris, 1927, pp.65, 259 (under year 1885); Mount, 1955, p.430; McKibbin, 1956, p.97; Mount, 1957, p.338.
A study for the ‘Portrait of Mme Gautreau’ in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The sitter is Virginie Avengo, wife of Pierre Gautreau, and famous for her beauty in Paris society. This study appears to resemble the finished portrait in every respect so far as pose and setting are concerned. The face, arms and hands are quite fully modelled, but the dress is only brushed in with a first layer of dark body colour and left incomplete at the bottom. The background is only sketched in, as is the table-top on which Mme Gautreau rests her right hand. An outline sketch of a head and shoulders appears in the lower left corner. Sargent began work on the ‘Mme Gautreau’ early in 1883 and only after many sittings did he decide on the final pose; it was finished in his Paris studio in time for the opening of the Salon on 1 May 1884. Although critical reception of the portrait was moderately good, Paris society regarded it with derision, and the sitter and her mother were enraged by the artist's frank portrayal of Mme Gautreau's sartorial eccentricities (as the style of décolleté dress was then considered), and of her use of a peculiar purplish cosmetic which imparted a bluish tone to her flesh. This portrait, instead of setting the seal on the artist's success in France as he had hoped, frightened French patrons into the studios of the more conventional French portraitists.
Charteris (p.65) was unable to discover whether this study was done before or after the
Metropolitan Museum painting, but Mount (1957, loc. cit) described it as a replica and dated it 1884. In a letter to the compiler (15 May 1963) Mount pointed out that the Metropolitan picture shows considerable revisions, the head has been altered, the arms both moved, the table lowered and the bustle of her gown eliminated; the Tate study incorporates all these revisions and therefore probably followed the finished painting.
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II