Friday, July 27, 2012

by Deborah Davis

During the 1880s, Parisian society could not get enough of Virginie Amelie Gautreau. She was considered to be quite beautiful and flaunted it every way that she could. Amelie (who always went by her middle name) was a Creole from New Orleans. Her skin was alabaster white but she had a secret in keeping it that way. Amelie was quite the narcissist and desired fame. What better way to showcase her beauty than to have an artist paint her and be exhibited. John Singer Sargent (also an American) was a portraitist and he was chosen to do just that at the 1884 Paris Salon. The painting would forever be known as Madame X even to this day. It caused quite a sensation and not in a good way. In the portrait, Amelie was wearing a black gown with two jeweled straps and her face was in profile. One of the straps had fallen down below her shoulder. People were shocked. It was considered such a scandal.So instead of catapulting the two of them to stardom, Amelie was humiliated and hid herself from the public and Sargent escaped to England.
Strapless is a terrific story and impossible to put down. Deborah Davis is a wonderful author (this is the second book of hers that I have read; the first one is Guest of Honor and is reviewed in this blog) and really knows how to flesh out all of the characters involved and bring them together, seamlessly.
Several of John Singer Sargent's works (in color) are in the middle of the book. What is interesting when you see these paintings of Amelie is that her face was ordinary and not particularly attractive. Even though she had a voluptuous figure, her visage was not exceptional. Unfortunately for her, Amelie inherited her father's long nose which was quite prominent and his red hair.
You get two biographies within one book. Sargent's life was absolutely fascinating (he lived all over the world) and Amelie's background is equally intriguing.
If you're interested in art and learning about Sargent's brilliance, this is one fabulous read.
Very highly recommended.