Strapless by Deborah Davis
John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X

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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.


About Deborah Davis

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Deborah Davis is the author of Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X; Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and His Black and White Ball; Gilded: How Newport Became America's Richest Resort; and The Oprah Winfrey Show: Reflections on an American Legacy. She formerly worked as an executive, story editor, and story analyst for several major film companies.
Published May 3, 2004 by Tarcher. 320 pages
Genres: History, Arts & Photography, Travel, Biographies & Memoirs. Non-fiction

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Although little is known about her daily life, Davis effectively paints the social and cultural context in which Gautreau became “the bold era’s bold new ideal of female beauty.” The author gives us as well the parallel story of Sargent, an American born in 1856 in Italy, and his rise to prominen...

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