The Unpaintable Beauty

John Singer Sargent in his studio with his painting Portrait of Madame X, photographer unknown, 1884

 
 

Madame X or Portrait of Madame X, John Singer Sargent, 1884

 
 

Madame X or Portrait of Madame X is the informal title of a portrait painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau. The model was an American expatriate who married a French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities. She wore lavender powder and prided herself on her appearance.

Madame X was painted not as a commission, but at the request of Sargent. It is a study in opposition. Sargent shows a woman posing in a black satin dress with jeweled straps, a dress that reveals and hides at the same time. The portrait is characterized by the pale flesh tone of the subject contrasted against a dark colored dress and background.

For Sargent, the scandal resulting from the painting’s controversial reception at the Paris Salon of 1884 amounted to the failure of a strategy to build a long-term career as a portrait painter in France, though it may have helped him establish a successful career in Britain and America.

Renowned for her beauty, Gautreau represented the parisienne, a new type of Frenchwoman recognized for her sophistication. The English-language term “professional beauty”, referring to a woman who uses personal skills to advance to elite status, was also used to describe her. Her unconventional beauty made her an object of fascination for artists; the American painter Edward Simmons claimed that he “could not stop stalking her as one does a deer.” Sargent was also impressed, and anticipated that a portrait of Gautreau would garner much attention at the upcoming Paris Salon, and increase interest in portrait commissions. He wrote to a friend:

“I have a great desire to paint her portrait and have reason to think she would allow it and is waiting for someone to propose this homage to her beauty. If you are ‘bien avec elle’ and will see her in Paris, you might tell her I am a man of prodigious talent.”

Although she had refused numerous similar requests from artists, Gautreau accepted Sargent’s offer in February 1883.Sargent was an expatriate like Gautreau, and their collaboration has been interpreted as motivated by a shared desire to attain high status in French society.

 
 

A figure study of  Madame Gautreau in watercolor and graphite, John Singer Sargent, circa 1883

 
 

Little progress was made during the winter of 1883, as Gautreau was distracted by social engagements, and was not by nature inclined to the discipline of sitting for a portrait. At her suggestion, Sargent traveled to her estate in Brittany in June, where he commenced a series of preparatory works in pencil, watercolors, and oils. About thirty drawings resulted from these sessions, in which many poses were attempted.

Gautreau was bored by the process of sitting; here, too, there were social engagements, as well as the responsibilities of tending to her four-year-old daughter, her mother, house guests, and a full domestic staff. Sargent complained of “the unpaintable beauty and hopeless laziness of Madame Gautreau.”

 
 

Nicole in Oscar de la Renta photographed by Steven Meisel, 1999

 
 

Julianne Moore photographed by Peter Lindbergh, 2008

 
 

For Spring 2008 Christian Dior Haute couture collection, John Galliano’s primrose path of inspiration had, he said, wended its way from John Singer Sargent’s Madame X  through to the gilded swirls and bejeweled geometrics of Gustav Klimt.

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Keep Your Pants On

Braces may have been employed since the end of the eighteen century to hold up men’s buckskin breeches but in the 1990s we no longer boast buck on our bums and we no longer use the word braces. Its mere utterance conjures up those pimply days of puberty and all of its embarrassments: corn kernels wedged in tinsel teeth, locked lips on a first kiss, rubber bands that smacked your valentine right between her eyes. The British say “braces”. Americans say “suspenders”.
 
Ok, we have learned what they’re called, so now we should learn what to avoid wearing. Beware of elaborately floral, shocking pink or insignia-imprinted designs. Because suspenders are most often worn with ties, the potential for clashing is high. Solid and subtly patterned suspenders are easier to match. Even for a punk or a hipster.
 
However, because fashion now is about being democratic, if you opt for a patterned pair, make sure the pattern is woven into the fabric and not ironed (or silk-screened) on. It’s classier.
 
Considering wearing a belt with your suspenders? Please, don’t.
 
Once upon a time, before the steamy factory days driven by mass production, a man could have his braces custom-made. Brass levers (as they were never anything but brassy) would rest comfortably in the personal hollow of a man’s chest. If they were set too high (above the bottom half of the chest), the levers’ double layer of material would pad the chest and the buckles would sneak up toward the face. In today’s world suspenders are a one-size-fits-all-deal. And so, as the bias stands, if you are going to brace yourself you’d better be tall. A kind tailor might customize a pair for you. A kind shoe repairman might as well.
 
A word on placement: The front buttons should be sewn securely inside the waistband and aligned with that clean pleat closest to the bone. This prevents our pants from fanning when we stand; it also defines the trouser’s creases and weights their depth. A button set too far to the side of the trousers relaxes the tension on the strap, permitting it to slip, like a woman’s bra might, coquettishly from the shoulder. Not flirty. Not sexy. Not cute.
 
Suspenders date to the French court of Louis XVI, when aristocrats began to use strips of ribbon to support their trousers. Long considered underwear — exposing them was against the law on Long Island as recently as 1938.
 
Here are few more historical facts about suspenders:
 
It’s been said that Benjamin Franklin invented them.
Claude Debussy wore floral ones.
Napoleon Bonaparte flaunted his bee insignia on his.
Victorian sweethearts would woo their suitors with hand-embroidered ones.

 
 

Clark Gable

 
 

Gary Cooper

 
 

Marlon Brando

 
 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

 
 

Jude Law. Still from Cold Mountain (Anthony Minghella, 2003)

 
 

Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic (James Cameron, 1997)

 
 

Maxwell

 
 

Raoul Bova accompanied by Monica Belluci

 
 

David Bowie

 
 

Suspenders. Photography by Leon Levinstein, 1955

 
 

Joe Strummer

 
 

Haircut 100

 
 

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

 
 

Alexander McQueen Menswear

 
 

Diesel ad campaign

 
 

Fun. Carry On music video (Anthony Mandler, 2012)

 
 

Nicole Kidman photographed by Craig Mcdean

 
 

Charlotte Rampling in a promotional picture for Il Portiere di Notte / The Night Porter (Liliana Cavani, 1974)

 
 

Madonna. Erotica music video (Fabien Baron, 1992)

 
 

Jeffrey Costello & Robert Tagliapietra

 
 

Several kind of suspenders had been shown in Ralph Lauren collections whether for women or for men and for children as well

The Many Faces of Pascal Vilcollet

Born in Paris, 1979, Pascal Vilcollet studied graphic design and taught himself to paint at age 16. “Fortunately, there was not much to do in my suburb. I discovered very early, museum galleries; it is there that I knew I would be painting later”.
 
He paints mostly for his own satisfaction. Portrait is his favorite motif, “it can be my obsession”. He doesn’t look for creating an effect; he said he paints to lighten a weight. He’s not interested in realism, pure figuration or hyper realism, rather than the border between reality and abstraction.
 
Vilcollet claims to have very eclectic tastes. He appreciates enormously Pierre Soulage and respects the artists that, in his opinion, represented their era: Caravaggio, Diego Velázquez, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko or contemporaries like Lucien Freud, Murakami, Justin Mortimer or Jenny Saville.
 
He spoke about his icons, mostly characters he feels fascination for because he either admires them. Taking advantage of real graphic representations, he fragments them and then reconstructs them, giving us a new insight into a psychological portrait. Pascal Vilcollet’s brush is the dynamic extension of his body while he is in action.

 
 

Pablo Picasso

 
 

Andy Warhol

 
 

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Jean-Michel Basquiat

 
 

Takashi Murakami

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent

 
 

Karl Lagerfeld

 
 

John Lennon

 
 

Mick Jagger

 
 

Bruce Lee

 
 

Al Pacino (as Michael Corleone)

 
 

Woody Allen

 
 

David Lynch

 
 

Steve McQueen

 
 

Grace Kelly

 
 

Elizabeth Taylor

 
 

Jane Birkin

 
 

Nicole Kidman

 
 

Natalie Portman

 
 

Kate Moss

 
 

Angelina Jolie

 
 

Monica Bellucci