Daniel's Esperanza

Daniel's Esperanza

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Madame X

A photograph of the original
John Singer Sargent, born to American parents in Florence, Italy (1856), was considered the leading portrait painter of his era.  In 1884, he exhibited in Paris what would eventually be considered a masterpiece; at the time, Paris society hated the painting and his reputation suffered.  He fled to London. 

Sargent named the portrait "Madame X" and the only thing that exists of the original as it hung in the Paris salon is a photograph.  The artist repainted the original (with right shoulder strap in place), which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The painting was viewed as scandalous, but seems very mild compared to today's standards for modesty and indecency.  I've written a flash fiction piece based on this...a very short story that I, too, call Madame X.  Thanks for reading, and if you're interested in more short stories, I've shared a few on this blog.  Just check out the links to the right.  As always, copyright applies (©Veronica Randolph Batterson).

Madame X

By Veronica Randolph Batterson

(©Veronica Randolph Batterson)

Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau.  Elle est un opportuniste. 
He fidgeted with his hands, pulling at the collar of his shirt as if doing so would loosen the tightness around his neck.  The room was warm and sweat formed at his hairline, the rivulets running down his face and into his eyes.  He patted his forehead with a handkerchief and thought he would be ill.  Soon there would be an audience.
Madame Pierre Gautreau, the artist’s dream, agreed to his request; she consented to sit for him.  A vision.  And he had painted her as such.   Sensual, regal, beautiful and unusual, her powdered skin and its lavender hue stood pasty and stark against the black dress.  The velvet bodice cut low over her breasts and held in place with two slim, jeweled straps.  He had been nervous at first.  Reflecting, perhaps that had lent to his displeasure and uncertainty of the painting.
Monsieur Sargent?  Will this work?
With her left hand she had gripped the velvet skirt while clutching the edge of a side table with the right one.  Her patrician profile exuded nobility; she was untouchable.  In an instant, it happened.  The slightest movement that changed everything.  The jeweled shoulder strap dropped suggestively from her right shoulder.  How do I look?  The little slip was painted into the portrait. 
Salle 31. 1884.
He waited for the unveiling as Paris society ambled into the salon, unforgiving and judgmental.  Champagne flowed amidst fluttery ladies on the arms of stodgy gentlemen.  A violinist performed but he could barely hear the music, so loud was the beat of his own heart.   He thought of leaving.  There his Madame X stood at eye level.  The Gautreau that everyone flocked to view.
John Singer Sargent.
The artist who painted a scandalous portrait of a difficile woman; it hadn’t been as he had hoped.  He knew the outcome of his folly and Amélie had known what she was doing, toying with him.  Feigning innocence.  Indolent.  How foolish he had been for following instincts instead of reason.  Now he would pay with his reputation.
Arriviste.  Ceci est scandaleux!
The gasps caught his attention.  Vulgaire.  Choquant.  Indécent.  The whispers grew as one voice, loud, biting and cruel.  They shouted his recklessness and relished his mistake, declaring the end for him in Paris while clucking at his foolishness.  L’artiste a échoué!  There was spiteful glee in his failure.  He was humiliated.  Some were repulsed by the pallor of her skin; most were shocked by the revealing décolletage.  Trop sensuelle.
He had exhibited at the Palais de Industrie for six years and was the preferred portrait artist of Paris.  The mocking confirmed it was over.   How could this happen, such fickleness?   Dejected, he felt he must retrieve the portrait before the Gautreau family obtained and destroyed it.  Then he would flee to London.  
Au revoir, Monsieur Sargent. 
He left.  Bitter, disappointed and angry.  To start over.  Optimiste.

©Veronica Randolph Batterson

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