At various times John Singer Sargent’s relationship with Madame Gautreau has been portrayed as an obsession but it can as easily be seen as an ambitious artist looking for a subject that would enhance his reputation.
Madame Virginie Amelie Gautreau was the toast of Paris at the time and other artists also wanted to paint this beautiful socialite. Originally from New Orleans she was from a wealthy French Creole family, her father Anatole Placide Avegno was an oficer in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War; he was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and later died of his wounds in 1862.
Her mother also Virginie brought Amelie to Paris in 1867 at the age of eight. By the time Amelie was 19 she had married the French banker Pierre Gautreau.
Like Mary Robinson and Emma Hamilton who I wrote about before she relied on her Beauty to boost her esteem in society. Unlike the previous two she had an ambitious mother who managed her campaign.
Sargent by 1882 was well established and accepted by the Salon with successful works such as El Jaleo.
|El Jaleo 1882|
In these early days Sargent did not want to be known as a portraitist, however portraits paid and he had to make a living. He was determined to become a successful artist and be accepted by the same upperclass Paris society that Amelie moved in.
|Dr Pozzi at Home 1881|
Having decided that Madame Gautreau would make a suitable subject he had to persuade her that he was the man for the job! Ben del Castillo and Madame Allouard-Jouan were both friends of Sargent and Amelie so were asked to be intermediaries and put in a good word for Sargent. Amelie had already turned down other artists who had approached her with the same proposal. Dr Pozzi had been pleased with his portrait and that probably helped, so in 1883 Amelie consented to Sargent’s request.
The rather long planing stages then began during which Sargent selected the gown he wished her to pose in, a dress by Felix Paussineau.
Eventually he had to wait until she moved to Brittany for the summer to start further studies for the painting.
He eventually chose a standing pose which was finished during that summer in Brittany.
Back in Paris it would seem that Sargent was unsure of the painting and started a second version for the Salon that was never finished. Carolus Duran saw the original and assured Sargent that the first was fine and he should show it.
|The painting as shown at the 1884 Salon with the fallen strap|
By the time Amelie died in 1915 Sargent was unassailably established as a eminent artist and the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York was pleased to buy the painting when he offered it to them in 1916.