John Singer Sargent

Study of Mme Gautreau


Not on display

John Singer Sargent 1856–1925
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2064 × 1079 mm
frame: 2293 × 1302 × 130 mm
Presented by Lord Duveen through the Art Fund 1925

Display caption

The finished portrait, which was exhibited as ‘Madame X’, belongs to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and Tate’s version is a full-size sketch. The sitter was the American wife of a French banker in Paris. Sargent deliberately planned a sensational portrait with an unconventional pose. Her head is shown in 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 he decided to move to Britain.

Gallery label, November 2016

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry


Not inscribed.
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Coll: Sargent Sale, Christie's, 24 July 1925 (79); withdrawn by arrangement with the members of the Sargent family and acquired by Sir Joseph (later Lord) Duveen for presentation to the Tate Gallery.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.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II

You might like

In the shop