In the late 19th century, the City of Light beckoned Whistler, Sargent, Cassatt and other young artists. As a new exhibition makes clear, what they experienced would transform American art.
Arthur Lubow in Smithsonian Magazine:
Her skin powdered lavender-white and her ears provocatively rouged, Virginie Avegno Gautreau, a Louisiana native who married a prosperous French banker, titillated Parisian society. People talked as much of her reputed love affairs as of her exotic beauty. In late 1882, determined to capture Madame Gautreau’s distinctive image, the young American painter John Singer Sargent pursued her like a trophy hunter. At first she resisted his importunings to sit for a portrait, but in early 1883, she acquiesced. During that year, at her home in Paris and in her country house in Brittany, Sargent painted Gautreau in sessions that she would peremptorily cut short. He had had enough free time between sittings that he had taken on another portrait—this one commissioned—of Daisy White, the wife of an American diplomat about to be posted to London. Sargent hoped to display the two pictures—the sophisticated Gautreau in a low-cut black evening dress and the proper, more matronly White in a frilly cream-and-white gown—in 1883 at the Paris Salon, the most prestigious art show in the city. Instead, because of delays, the finished paintings would not be exhibited until the following year at, respectively, the Paris Salon and the Royal Academy in London. Seeing them together as Sargent intended is one of the pleasures of “Americans in Paris, 1860-1900,” now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (after earlier stops at the National Gallery of London and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) through January 28, 2007.