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“Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast” by John Singer Sargent

"Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast" by John Singer Sargent

“Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast” by John Singer Sargent

“Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast” by John Singer Sargent was an early oil on panel study by Sargent that eventually resulted in the notorious Madame X painting.

This painting depicts Madame Pierre Gautreau who was born as Virginie Amélie Avegno in New Orleans but grew up from the age of eight in France, where she became a Parisian socialite known for her beauty.

She occasionally posed as a model for notable artists. She is most widely known as the subject of Sargent’s painting Portrait of Madame X, which created a social scandal when shown at the Paris Salon.

Portrait of Madame X

The attempt to preserve the subject’s anonymity by calling the picture “Portrait de Mme ***” was unsuccessful, and the sitter’s mother requested that Sargent withdraw the painting from the exhibition.

Sargent refused, but later, he overpainted the fallen shoulder strap to raise it and make it look more securely fastened. Initially, as exhibited, the right strap on the dress was painted as having slipped off the shoulder.

He also changed the title to “Madame X,” a name more dramatic and mysterious and to give the illusion of the woman archetype.

Madame X John Singer Sargent,

Portrait of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1884 – Metropolitan Museum of Art

Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau

Madame Gautreau (1859 – 1915) was of European Creole ancestry. She was taken at the age of eight by her widowed mother to France in 1867 following the American Civil War.

Virginie Avegno became one of Paris’s conspicuous beauties, as she was a pale-skinned brunette with fine, cameo-like features and an hourglass figure.

She was known to use lavender colored face and body powder to enhance her complexion, to dye her hair with henna, and to color her eyebrows. She attracted much admiration due to her elegance and style.

Avegno was educated in Paris and married Pierre Gautreau, a wealthy businessman. Madame Gautreau attracted much amorous attention, and her extramarital affairs became the subject of tabloid scandal sheets and gossip handbills.

One of her lovers was a Dr. Pozzi, whose portrait had been painted by the young aspiring portraitist John Singer Sargent.

Sargent asked Dr. Pozzi to introduce him to Virginie, which the doctor did, resulting in Sargent’s being invited to the Gautreaus’ Brittany chateau, Les Chênes, where Sargent produced some 30 studies of her in pencil, watercolor, and oil.

Following the Madame X scandal in 1884, Madame X’s mother screamed at Sargent, “All Paris is making fun of my daughter. She is ruined … She’ll die of chagrin.” Gautreau retired from society for some time.

Gautreau died in Cannes in 1915. She was buried in the Gautreau family crypt at their Chateau des Chênes in Saint-Malo, Brittany.

Remembering Virginie Gautreau: “Madame X” 

Facts About Madame Pierre Gautreau and John Singer Sargent’s Painting

  • John Singer Sargent had to beg for two years before the glamorous sociality agreed to sit for her portrait.
  • To achieve her pale complexion, Madame X used a lavender-colored face powder. For contrast, she rouged her ears and dyed her hair red.
  • Madame X’s hair is in the Ancient Greek era style plus with her diamond crescent tiara, the symbol of Diana, goddess of the hunt and the moon.
  • The exhibition of the Portrait of Madame X at the Paris Salon of 1884, had the Critics scandalized with the nearly bare shoulders and cleavage.
  • The gown’s plunging neckline was considered too provocative for the times.
  • Initially, as exhibited, the right strap on the dress was painted as having slipped off the shoulder.
  • Sargent had to repaint it in its proper position to appease outraged viewers and Gautreau’s own family.
  • Sargent did eventually withdraw the painting and did not exhibit the picture again for years.
  • The French scandal prompted Sargent to moved to London before settling in New York. When he began exhibiting the piece again in 1905, he became highly sought for commissioned work.

John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925) is considered one of the leading portrait painters and is known for his evocations of the luxury of his era.

He created over 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as many sketches and drawings. He also traveled extensively across Europe, the Middle East, and the United States.

Many of John Singer Sargent portraits, which can be found in museums across the world, depict society’s leading lights and the luxury of their time.

Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast

  • Title:                 Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast
  • Artist:               John Singer Sargent
  • Year:                1882 and 1883
  • Medium:          Oil on panel
  • Dimensions:     32 x 41 cm (12 5/8 x 16 1/8 in.)
  • Museum:          Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

John Singer Sargent Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast

John Singer Sargent

Madame(s) X: Muses, Makers, & Shifting Identities

Virtual Tour of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) – Portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau


John Singer Sargent – Madame Gautreau


John Singer Sargent Madame X



“Every time I paint a portrait I lose a friend.”
– John Singer Sargent


Photo Credit: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public domain; John Singer Sargent / Public domain

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