Trifecta Writing Challenge # 64: ALL FOR A STRAP…

moonshineHere’s another blast from the past for my moonshine grid friends…  I wrote this for The Trifecta Writing Challenge last year, about one of my favorite obsessions… enjoy.



Amélie adjusted the strap and tried to stand still. She was getting tired, but more so bored. “Madame, please try to stand straighter. I’m almost finished. You will be the toast of all Paris soon.”  She liked the painting, although not sure of the pose. And why did he dwell on the color of her skin so? She was one of the most sought after beauties of the day, and was looking forward to the Salon of 1884.

Varnishing Day came, and Le Gaulois had given John a favorable review. Fourcald called the painting “remarkable”.

She stepped from the carriage, dressed for the occasion. Congratulations and praise sure to come. But, that was not to be the case. For Painting #2150 in Gallery 31 was to be the cause of ruined reputations and changed lives that day. Instead of words like “superbe” and “magnifique” the shouts from the crowd were “détestable”, “clown”, “harlot”, “monstrueux”. Not at all what was expected, and the reviews in the days to come were scathing. All for a strap and the color of too much bare skin.

After the Salon, the artist did not show the painting publicly for 20 years. Madame Virginie Amélie Gautreau went into seclusion for the rest of her life.


Thirty-two years later, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City, would buy one of the most famous portraits ever painted. Madame had died in Paris the year before.  John Singer Sargent had become one of the most famous artists of his time.  A stipulation of sale, was that the painting not bear her name, but be called “Madame X”.



Trifecta Challenge Week Sixty-Four : Write 33 to 333 words using the third definition of the word:DWELL

In 2007, I visited New York City to see two of my favorite ladies… I wrote about it early in my blogging career…  Jennifer and Madame.


If you are on facebook, check out my Friends of Madame X


69 responses

  1. and after 20 years they appreciate it? damned masses. 🙂 i really like the name Amelie

  2. A picture worth much more than thousand words. 🙂

  3. That’s so sad-art is so subjective-no one knows what will be appreciated or when -good job:-)

    1. It was shocking and new… we know what happens with new.

  4. Intriguing! I went and looked this up, it’s fascinating.

  5. Fickle people. We don’t know what we want when it comes to art, whether written or drawn.

  6. This is an awesome piece of historical fiction, Ted! Superbe! Magnifique! 😉 I love it!!!

    1. Thank you for the ‘superbe magnifique’, B!

  7. That is very good, Ted. Good imagery. I am working in a few of the DP writing challenges too. Posted one yesterday on ‘characters’ and did one from on of my older, longer pieces of historic fiction (a novel – a work in progress).

    1. Thank you, Joyce. I haven’t done any of those yet. I did see the ‘character prompt. I’ll go check yours.

  8. Oh, no! I had no idea, but after reading this I had to take a good look at the painting. Fascinating little bit of historical narration — all that hope and ambition gone astray.

    1. He was ruined in Paris as a portrait painter, so he went to England to great success.

  9. How horrible for the artist and the subject..

    1. It was not a good time for them… ruined her life. It was not what he expected at all, but the painting showed his greatness and vision.

  10. What an interesting story. I want to look to see if I can find more information. It’s hard to believe something like that could cause such a scandal.

    1. It was an interesting time. The first portrait painted in profile. A slipped strap on a revealing dress. And a lot more. The best book about JSS’s and ‘Madame X’ is by Deborah Davis… “Strapless”.

      1. Thanks for the references. I guess we all take a little skin for granted, but, now that I’m thinking about it, it was a big deal then.

  11. Ooo. Nicely done. Especially her impatience at the very skin that would create the scandal.

    1. She was not a good sitter, and wasn’t sure what to make of the painting. But he asked to paint her, not the other way around.

  12. sigh. Doesn’t it just figure?

  13. I come here for a simple post and I come away with an art history lesson. Bravo! Well told. I had no idea… Funny, in a not-so-funny-kind-of-way how so many great artists and writers are not recognized until well after their deaths.

  14. I feel sad for her. It’s a shame that her portrait could not have been appreciated in her time.

  15. How sad! (Those people would’ve dropped dead had they seen what people wear these days!) I’m glad he found success elsewhere, but it is terrible that her life was ruined.

  16. C’est magnifique! Much ado about skin color, mais c’est la vie. At least all’s well that ends well — Time and timelessness are art’s revenge. The people who cried ‘detestable’ are all dead and gone; Madame X lives on. But without the people who called it ‘monstrueux,’ who called her ‘harlot,’ this beautiful story would not have a reason for being. They played their part, crucial and necessary, in this moving historical fiction.

  17. So far this the Trifecta entry — since I joined, not just for this week’s challenge — that has the most effect on me.

    1. Wow… what a nice thing to say. Thank you.

  18. A prophet is never recognised during his time —

  19. I read that and remember how easy it used to be to destroy a woman’s life with a few well placed words. I am so glad society has advanced since then and women aren’t expected to be the embodiments of purity anymore…. or I’d be in big trouble.

    That’s a lovely painting. It’s sad that both the subject and the artist were subjected to scorn and ridicule over showing the female form (and she wasn’t even naked). Human beings can be such a ridiculous lot.

  20. Nice history lesson. Oh how times have changed (:

  21. Wow, I loved this! Beautifully written, and made me have to look at the image over and over. Great stuff.

  22. And she never knew she became a masterpiece. The poor woman 😦

    1. That has always made me sad.

  23. Fascinating, great topic, nice lesson. I enjoyed it! And well-written!

  24. I love the fresh perspectives you bring to the Challenge. Thanks for linking up.

  25. Thanks for the history lesson. I always appreciate a good back story, even though it was somewhat sad I liked it and the painting.

    1. It is a lot sad. There is another version in the Tate Museum in London.

  26. Entertaining and educational! John Singer Sargent is one of my all time favorite painters. Just thought I’d share that with you.

    1. He’s one of my favorites too… Dali my other most… I would love to go to Boston to see his works there.

  27. What a wonderful, tragic little story. I suppose not so little. Thanks. I enjoyed reading that, the way you wrote it was very good, so light like. History made interesting. Happy Valentine’s Day!

    1. Thanks… well, it didn’t start out as a history lesson, but was fun to do.

  28. This gave me shivers! I LOVE it and had no idea of the story!
    Thanks for bringing it to the party! Happy V Day!

      1. Thanks for the shout Ted!

  29. Hi Ted! What a great story to tell in 333 words! Really good job!!

  30. Beautiful imagery! One strap can lead to a whole lot of trouble.

  31. Poor woman – what a sad story. And it’s such a beautiful painting! Very well told – thank you for sharing.

    1. You are welcome, Suzanne. I loved seeing the painting in person after looking at pictures in books.

  32. really bad for times have changed..many artists, writersa and poets have been appreciated only after their death…that is really sad..

  33. She took it pretty hard to go into seclusion for the rest of her life! I really liked this one! And the topic was totally unexpected! 😀

    1. Thanks, Linda… topic unexpected… that’s a cool comment.

  34. Ted this was very cleverly written, a different take and one that I was not prepared for, but as I read, I learnt and learning from other writers tis a grand thing. 🙂

    1. Thank you, it is a very interesting story and look at the time.

  35. This was really, impressively excellent! Came back just to be sure to tell you – great work 😀

  36. Thanks for the education, Ted. But why call her a harlot? She only posed for him. Honestly, critics.

    1. She wore whitish makeup and rouged her ears, she thought they were one of her best features, plus the slipped strap suggested sex, so the people viewing were shocked and trying to think of mean things… think painted lady, another word for prostitute. She was kind of like a Paris Hilton or Lady Di (I know, I know no comparison), someone in great fascination and demand by the public. I think the most shocking thing was, that he posed her in profile. All of those elements created a ‘perfect storm’ and she was soundly criticized, which devastated her.

      1. Rouged her ears – scandalous. I can well understand her devastation. Thanks for the explanation.
        I’m now trying to imagine Paris Hilton and Lady Di on the same stage…

  37. Well… know I love this one!!!

  38. C’est merveilleux! You may have been to this link but if not please enjoy:

    1. Thank you! Yes, many times… it is The site for JSS. I was in Penzey’s Spices in Seattle last week and the salesgirl wore white makeup… a little Madame X.

  39. This is fun! I love that painting of “Madame X,” and I love the Parisian flavor of this vignette.

  40. Ted, I enjoyed this piece very much. And I love the portrait of Madame X.

  41. Nicely done, I enjoyed it. Swung by from Yeah Write.

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