Saturday, November 6, 2010

X-Rays of Madame X

Technical analysis completed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and published in 2005 reveals some very interesting data about John Singer Sargent's struggle with the composition and shading of Mme. Pierre Gautreau's portrait before and after it was debuted at the Paris Salon of 1884. Museum conservator, Dorothy Mahon, and associate research scientist, Silvia Centeno, demonstrate through X-radiography that Sargent reworked Gautreau's profile at least eight times.

The placement of her arms was changed from a completely different pose, and the angle of the tabletop was revised after the Salon exhibition. Most notably, Sargent altered the falling strap after it had been exhibited, as we know both anecdotally and from a black and white photograph of the Salon painting.  X-ray imaging shows the fallen strap underneath the repainted right arm of the sitter. As the article explains, Singer also changed the color background.

John Singer Sargent sold this portrait to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1916. Photographs in this posting are from the article cited:

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