Madame X is a painting created by John Singer Sargent in 1884, which features Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau, a well-known Parisian socialite admired for her beauty. The painting caused controversy when it debuted at the Paris Salon in the same year due to its provocative and unorthodox nature. Critics saw it as an immoral image and dubbed it scandalous.
Sargent painted Madame X of his own accord rather than taking on a commission. He used chlorate of potash powder to enhance Gautreau’s fairness and henna to darken her red hair. In contrast with the subject’s daring dress, she poses modestly in the picture, costing him multiple attempts to complete satisfactorily due to her discerning eye.
Aside from Madame X, Sargent produced other works featuring Gautreau such as Head of a Capri Girl and Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast. After Sargent’s passing, he donated Madame X to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where it is currently open for public viewing.
While it initially caused displeasure in its contemporary time period due to its unconventional style portraying sexuality more candidly than seen before; art historians have come appreciate its significance as an example of modernist portraiture today.