Elizabeth Block - Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau: Living Statue

  • Liz Renes

    Liz Renes

  • October 20, 2018

Madame X, 1884, Image Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (OASC)

Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide 17.2 (Autumn 2018)

This article places John Singer Sargent’s Madame X (1883–84) within the discourse of classical reception. It argues that as a “living statue,” Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau performed a role in society that observers found fashionable and alluring; however, critics panned the painting as displeasing and unnatural. This study contends that Gautreau claimed cultural agency within the social spaces of Parisian and Breton soirées, but her carefully constructed image became the object of scrutiny when displayed in the hallowed artistic space of the Paris Salon. The article further claims that conceptions about race and exoticism underlay the reaction, disallowing viewers of Madame X to regard her whiteness as embodying ideal purity.

The full article can be read open-access online here, or you can download the PDF below. 

By Elizabeth L. Block