Even before John Singer Sargent painted her portrait, Virginie Gautreau's reputation for promiscuity and showy self-display made her the subject of Paris gossip. Her scandalous portrait, unveiled in 1884, provides the inspiration for this debut novel--a compulsively readable immersion in Belle Epoque Paris.Even before John Singer Sargent painted her portrait, Virginie Gautreau's reputation for promiscuity and showy self-display made her the subject of Paris gossip. Her scandalous portrait, unveiled in 1884, provides the inspiration for this debut novel--a compulsively readable immersion in Belle Epoque Paris.Read Less
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New. When John Singer Sargent unveiled Madame X--his famous portrait of American beauty Virginie Gautreau--at the 1884 Paris Salon, its subject's bold pose and provocative dress shocked the public and the critics, smashing Sargent's dreams of a.
Publishers Weekly, 2002-11-18 Paris gasped and gossiped when John Singer Sargent's portrait of Madame X was first exhibited in 1884. Everyone knew the subject was the notorious Virginie Gatreau, and Sargent's shocking depiction-posed in profile, the woman boasts bare shoulders, deep decolletage and an exotically pale complexion-intimately suggested her vanity, arrogance and sexuality. In her first novel (after biographies of Jane Addams, Hadley Hemingway and Brenda Frazier), Diliberto competently imagines Gatreau's controversial life. During the Civil War, six-year-old Virginie, her younger sister and her widowed mother flee the Union soldiers approaching her grandmother's sugar plantation in Louisiana. As an expatriate in Paris, Virginie (or Mimi, as she is called) becomes a "professional beauty," someone who is "received in the best society but ha[s] no other occupation, no other ambition than to be beautiful." At 15, she begins trysting with a married doctor. Pregnant, she hastily marries social climber Pierre Gatreau (and then suffers a miscarriage). Later, she has an affair with French Republican leader Leon Gambetta. Her life is filled with tragedy: the shame of pregnancy, the death of her sister from typhoid and her emotional isolation. Her only trustworthy relative is her Aunt Julie, who refuses to marry and becomes a professional artist; Virginie's narcissistic mother uses her daughter to get into the top echelons of society. This fast scroll through history (the Civil War, the fall of the French Second Empire, the belle epoque, etc.) against a backdrop of parties, salons, operas, artists' studios and sexual escapades is inviting for its wealth of well-researched period details, but limited by its narrator's sensibility. In this evocation, Virginie Gatreau never becomes anything more than a shallow object of beauty. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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