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Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X Hardcover – July 28, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tarcher; 1ST edition (July 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585422215
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585422210
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #312,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A stunner about a stunner." —The Philadelphia Inquirer
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Deborah Davis is a writer and veteran film executive who has worked as a story editor and story analyst for Warner Bros., Columbia TriStar, Disney, Miramax, and the William Morris Agency.

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Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

Customer Reviews

This is a book I am happy to pass on to close friends.
Ted Tedesco
Oddly, both Sargent and Gautreau were American ex-patriates, and Davis does an excellent job of describing the American colony in Paris at that particular time.
HeyJudy
I highly recommend this book to anyone from the casual reader to true art historians.
Janice E. McClellan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

131 of 138 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on October 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The title of this review refers to something John Singer Sargent wrote in a letter when he was attempting to complete the "Madame X," painting. He was having a great deal of difficulty in deciding what pose Madame Gautreau should adopt for the painting. It didn't help that the 24 year old woman appeared to suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder: she hated to hold a pose. She was rich, she was young, and, well, she had other things to do! I have to admit that when I read on the book jacket that "Deborah Davis is a writer and veteran film executive...",I was a bit put off. I thought, "Oh, this is going to be presented in a 'Hollywood' way, with a lot of style but no substance." Well, shame on me. Ms. Davis (who admits she is not an art "expert") has written a very good book. Although the book is relatively brief, the author covers a lot of ground. Even though the book is not meant to be a biography of Sargent, we still get a pretty good feel for what the man was like: sensitive, intelligent, ambitious, lonely and sexually conflicted. Sargent had already made a pretty good name for himself before he painted Amelie Gautreau. By painting a celebrated beauty, however, he was going for the brass ring - he was hoping to become even more well known and to generate more commissions for portraits of the rich and famous. When Ms. Davis talks about the actual public display of the painting at the 1884 Paris Salon, she also is quite good. We learn about the quirks of a culture where it was perfectly fine to have acres of naked flesh cavorting in a historical painting, but it was scandalous to have a fallen shoulder strap if you were painting a real, contemporary woman.Read more ›
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful By HeyJudy VINE VOICE on August 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
STRAPLESS is an excellent work of scholarship, combining biographies of two unrelated people whose stories always will be entwined in popular theory.

Here, author Deborah Davis traces the lives of artist John Singer Sargent and the subject of his most famous painting, Madame X.

Madame X was a renowned beauty in late 19th century Paris named Virginie Gautreau. Oddly, both Sargent and Gautreau were American ex-patriates, and Davis does an excellent job of describing the American colony in Paris at that particular time.

At the moment of its completion, in the portrait of Virginie, her gown had a strap depicted as falling off her shoulder. So decadent was this considered, so blatantly alluding to things sensual, that the portrait caused a scandal.

Sargent then was considered a rising star and both he and Virginie expected this portrait to solidify their places among the stars of the Belle Epoque. Yet luster would not be added to either of their reputations, not even after Sargent had re-painted the strap into its proper place.

Sargent fled to England, where his prestige slowly recovered. Gautreau, however, remained a virtual outcast of society as a consequence of the negative reaction. Over the decades, Sargent has remained famous, while Virginie's actual name has fallen into obscurity.

And if Davis had not decided to step in and tell the whole tale, Virgine probably would have remained obscure. STRAPLESS shows marvelous research about a fascinating moment in time.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
As an artist and a art historian, I was very pleased to get new insight into the story behind the painting Madame X and the people and places that surrounded her creation. As in The DaVinci Code, many mysteries were uncovered in an intriquing way (but without all of the running around). Bravo for writing a book that is accessible to artists and laypeople alike. Davis has painted a picture of the process the artist goes through when making decisions that remain on the canvas years after the artist and model are long gone. Worth taking the time to read the story and to see the beautiful reproductions of Sargent's paintings.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Miss Print VINE VOICE on February 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I read this book in August 2008 and have been meaning to review it ever since. For shame.

Most people know John Singer Sargent's infamous painting "Madame X" even if they don't know the name and have never heard of the artist because this painting has quite the sensational story attached to it.

According to surrounding lore, Sargent initially painted "Madame X" with the right strap of her black gown slipping off of her shoulder.When the painting debuted at the 1884 Salon in Paris ( the place to have a painting displayed at the time and a good signifier of current or future artistic success) it created an uproar, so scandalous was the pose. Indeed, facing numerous charges of the painting's indecency, Sargent eventually repainted the strap sitting firmly, and properly, on Madame's shoulder.

Pursuing my art history minor in New York City I had the amazing opportunity to see "Madame X" in person at the Metropolitan Museum. The painting has always had a special place in my heart for, if nothing else, the drama associated with its debut. So I was very pleased when a copy of Deborah Davis' book Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X (2004) fell into my lap.

Part historical research, part biography, part social commentary, part feminist text, Deborah Davis handles a lot of material in a relatively small volume (320 pages with font of average size and relevant pictures included). One of the reasons Davis decided to research this particular painting and its subject is because so little information remains about Virginie Amelie Gautreau, her life, or how Sargent came to paint her scandalous portrait.
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