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Strapless by Deborah Davis
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Strapless (original 2003; edition 2004)

by Deborah Davis

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4461334,345 (3.94)19
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Title:Strapless
Authors:Deborah Davis
Info:Tarcher (2004), Paperback, 320 pages
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Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davis (2003)

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While this book focuses on John Singer Sargent's famous painting of Virginie Amelie Gautreau, its creation and the reaction to it, it also tells much of his and his model's life history and the world of art in the late 19th century. Thoroughly enjoyable. ( )
  gbelik | Feb 3, 2018 |
Reading like an interesting encyclopedia article, this was a bit slow to get into, but after a while the story unfolded. John Singer Sargent was born to an American family but never lived in America until he was an adult. A talented artist, he studied in Paris with the best teachers and soon earned a reputation as a portraitist. Amelie Avegno Gautreau was the daughter of an American southerner who left the South after the Confederacy was defeated. Amelie was raised by an overbearing mother and had a distinctive French Creole look with a exaggerated nose but was still considered quite a beauty.

Living in Paris, Amelie and her mother made all the social events. Eventually, she and Sargent crossed paths and he asked to do her portrait. Although posing for the portrait was difficult for her as she had so many social obligations, she did so and the portrait was first displayed at the famous Salon, a giant exhibition of the greatest art each year in Paris. Sargent had won several years and was highly confident about the portrait of Amelie.

When the portrait was displayed, rather than being admired, it received terrible reviews. People thought it was scandalous particularly due to the fact that the strap on the seductive black dress was falling off the subject's shoulder. Although viewers were accustomed to views of nudes, this portriat was a completely new approach and people were shocked. Amelie and her mother was mortified.

An interesting story of the painter and the subject of the painting who never quite got over the shock. Sargent, however, went on to do many more portraits and the painting became knows and "Madame X" dropping Amelie's name. Today it is a classic. ( )
  maryreinert | May 30, 2016 |
Interesting read on a painting that I never knew the back story of. However, a lot of the book was simplistic and could have been left out. ( )
1 vote bogopea | Nov 12, 2014 |
This book's casual tone and brisk pace belie the serious scholarship it's so clearly been based on. This would be an excellent gift for anyone interested in recent art history, 1880s Paris, or just a light, informative non-fiction read. ( )
  willoughby | Jan 14, 2014 |
A very fun, easy read: biography-lite.
I learned a lot of juicy, interesting details about the escapades of the extremely wealthy and privileged upper class in late 19th century France.
( )
  KristySP | Apr 21, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 158542336X, Paperback)

The subject of John Singer Sargent's most famous painting was twenty-three-year-old New Orleans Creole Virginie Gautreau, who moved to Paris and quickly became the "it girl" of her day. A relative unknown at the time, Sargent won the commission to paint her; the two must have recognized in each other a like-minded hunger for fame.

Unveiled at the 1884 Paris Salon, Gautreau's portrait generated the attention she craved-but it led to infamy rather than stardom. Sargent had painted one strap of Gautreau's dress dangling from her shoulder, suggesting either the prelude to or the aftermath of sex. Her reputation irreparably damaged, Gautreau retired from public life, destroying all the mirrors in her home.

Drawing on documents from private collections and other previously unexamined materials, and featuring a cast of characters including Oscar Wilde and Richard Wagner, Strapless is a tale of art and celebrity, obsession and betrayal.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:44 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Parisian gossip columns were bursting with news of twenty-three-year-old Virginie Amelie Gautreau, whose stunning looks and unconventional behavior had made her the city's hottest "it girl." The fame-hungry Gautreau soon met John Singer Sargent, an up-and-coming artist eager to collaborate on a portrait that would catapult them both to the pinnacle of society." "Sargent's painting of Gautreau was shown at the 1884 Paris Salon. But while Sargent, the American son of vagabond parents, rose to lasting stardom, Gautreau - cultivated since childhood to be admired and envied - was ridiculed, then utterly forgotten." "How did their destinies come to be so sharply overturned? The answer, Deborah Davis reveals in Strapless, lies in Sargent's portrait. Madame X, as it hangs today in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, depicts Gautreau in a black gown with two jeweled shoulder straps. But in the original painting, one strap fell from Gautreau's upper arm in an intimation of sex - igniting a critical frenzy that shattered Gautreau's reputation and sent Sargent in flight to England." "Drawing on previously unexamined family papers and documents discovered in libraries and private collections, Davis explores the tantalizing mysteries at the heart of Madame X. Why did Sargent paint his subject in such a deliberately provocative manner, and why did Gautreau acquiesce? Could they have anticipated that a fallen strap would shock even decadent Belle Epoque Paris, and agreed that celebrity would be worth the scandal? If so, what later moved Sargent to repaint Gautreau's strap to sit chastely on her shoulder?" "With its revelations about Gautreau's identity and an eyebrow raising cast of characters including Richard Wagner, Henry James, Sarah Bernhardt, and Dr. Samuel Pozzi, Gautreau's notorious gynecologist/lover, this enthralling account exposes the Dorian Gray-like tale of beauty and infatuation, obsession and betrayal, that lies behind Sargent and Gautreau's masterpiece."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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