Singer Sargent’s Sexy Scandal (Art Week)
This week we’ve looked at two historical fictions about famous artists. Today I’m switching gears and looking at the life of one of the models.
I Am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto revolves around the life of Virginie Gautreau, the woman who posed for John Singer Sargent’s infamous painting, Madame X. To the current-day eye the portrait is of an elegant woman wearing a beautiful, sleek black dress. The waist is small and defined. The deep V-neckline, almost modest for today, revealed a lot of skin in the 1800s. But more shockingly was the fact that one strap was dangling off her shoulder in a come-hither attitude. Gasp. That “slutty” picture ended up causing a lot of strife. Later, a repentant Singer Sargent moved away from his scandal in Paris and the strap was repainted more respectably on her shoulder.
This novel, however, doesn’t focus on that painting; it is centered on the life of the woman in the painting. Virginie Gautreau moved from a Louisiana plantation with her mother and sister to Paris in the 1800s. While the Civil War raged at home, Virginie took on the life of a Parisian socialite. She was a desperate housewife of her day with style and class demanded of a stricter set of social boundaries. She did not always adhere to those restrictions, though, and did not escape gossip anymore than a modern-day party girl. I really liked this book. I loved strolling with Virginie in Paris during the time of the Belle Epoque. I was lured by the elegance and grandness of the times. Mostly I was interested in the life Virginie carved out for herself. One day I hope to make a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the portrait. And when I do, I will smile, because I feel I know this woman. I know her secrets, her ambitions, and struggles. This isn’t just another beautiful painting; it’s Virginie.
John Singer Sargent’s Dr. Pozzi at Home 1881. He was a surgeon and specialized in female diseases. He was murdered by an insane patient in 1918.
Dr. Pozzi is one of the characters you'll get to know in this book.
If you enjoyed this book, you may also like The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan, Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland, and Frida by Barbara Mujica.
What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: Readinginthegarden@gmail.com