John Singer Sargent, the most successful portrait painter of his era painted this extra-ordinary portrait near the start of his career. He had hoped it would win him fame – and it did, but not particularly in the way he had imagined. The artist approached Virginie Gautreau, a famous society beauty and wife of a French banker, who agreed to his request of being the model for his painting.
Sargent chose the pose for his model carefully - her body boldly faces forward, while her head has a turned in profile - a posture of both assertion and retreat. When the “unpaintable” beauty with her hourglass figure and ivory complexion was finally completed in Sargent’s painting and put on display at the Paris Salon in 1884, it created a full fledged cultural scandal. The public was shocked by her low-cut dress, deathly white make up, and outraged by the fact that one of her dress straps was hanging off her shoulder – a sure sign of impropriety.
The scandal caused Virginie to retire from society and Sargent repainted the shoulder strap once the exhibition was over. He left Paris soon after the scandal, but always maintained that the portrait was the finest thing he painted. The painting was sold by Sargent to the Metropolitan Museum in 1916.
Flaming June is widely considered to be Frederic Lord Freigton’s magnum opus today and vividly portrays the artist’s classicist nature. The painting starkly recalls one of Michelangelo’s “Night” in the Medici chapel in Florence. However, according to Leighton, the set up was not intentionally designed; it came about naturally when his exhausted model Dorothy Dene was resting.
Dorothy Dene who was chosen by Leighton as the one woman"whose face and figure most closely tallied with his ideal" was also an English actress, and modeled for many of Leighton’s works. Dene was also was known as the most beautiful woman in England in the 1890s. Rumors implied that Leighton was in love with Dene before he died, but the artist and the model could never be married because of the long gap in their years – Leighton was seventy and Dene was only twenty-eight!
Flaming June was auctioned in the 1960s, during a period of time known to be difficult for selling Victorian era paintings, where it failed to sell for its low reserve price of $140 USD. But the painting gained immense popularity with the revival of the Victorian Era and was rescued from obscurity when it was purchased by the Ponce Museum of Art in Puerto Rico, where it currently resides.
L'Arlésienne, L'Arlésienne (Madame Ginoux), or Portrait of Madame Ginoux made news early in the year 2006 for being sold at an auction in New York for more than $40m. The 1890 painting was one in a series of five paintings created in homage to Van Gogh's friend, the artist Paul Gauguin.
Madame Ginoux, a local from Arles was married to Joseph-Michel Ginoux and was the proprietress of Café de la Gare, where both the artists visited frequently during their stay at Arles. It was during this period that Van Gogh cut off his own ear. The painting was done in a period of deep melancholy for Van Gogh, when his relationship with Paul Gauguin ended and the artist was institutionalized in an asylum.
In the final depiction of Madame Ginoux, Van Gogh diverted from his own, somewhat more animated form of sketching and adopted a treatment that was closer in style to that of Gaugin. On 17 June 1890, Van Gogh wrote of his work to Gauguin, “It is a synthesis of the Arlésiennes, if you like; as syntheses of the Arlésiennes are rare, take this as a work belonging to you and me as a summary of our months of work together.”
Salvador Dali’s Portrait of Gala, depicts his wife, his muse and the woman he called as his agent between the genius and the real world, Gala Dali.
The artist’s absolute adoration for his wife, who was ten years older to him, was evident in his paintings in the early 1930s where he started to sign his paintings with his and her name. Dali was noted to be rather unsystematic and uncontrolled with his private affairs and he stated that it was Gala who had saved him from madness and an early death at these times. However, the later years of their relationship had bittered owing to Gala’s numerous extramarital affairs that resulted in her lack of attention to an insecure and self doubting Dali. Most of Dali’s later paintings thus went on to depict Gala in a dark and hazy light.
This portrait of Gala too lacked the fresh, unyielding and overriding expression that was evident in most of Dali’s previous works with Gala. Nevertheless, many of the works that the artist is now famous for were created with Gala as his muse.
This “Mona Lisa of the North" or the “Dutch Mona Lisa” is one of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer's masterworks and uses a pearl earring for a focal point in the picture. The picture is not a portrait but a study of a woman’s head known in Vermeer’s day as a tronie. Like in all of Vermeer’s paintings, the subject for this painting too has never been confirmed.
In any case, the most frequently mentioned candidate for the model for the Girl with a Pearl Earring has been Vermeer’s eldest daughter Maria. Magdalena, the only daughter of Vermeer's principle patron, Pieter Van Ruijven, has also been proposed as a possible candidate. The idea that Vermeer engaged a maid as the sitter has been put forth in recent fictional literature (Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel by the same name), although there exists absolutely no historical evidence that supports this idea.
Despite the fact that Vermeer is known to have painted only 35 paintings, he is regarded as one of the greatest artists of the Dutch Golden Age. Vermeer acquired only modest recognition in his lifetime, but gained widespread respect after his death. His techniques, in particular his mastery of light have inspired modern artists of all types, including Dali.
Fritza von Reidler was one of the many women employed in the most common theme that Klimt utilized in his paintings: that of the dominant woman, the femme fatale.
The woman in this popular painting of Klimt emerges from a sitting position in a froth of white lace and heavy satin ribbons with her head being framed by an ornate stained glass window; this framing marks her out as a person of high heritage and importance. Being a son of an engraver in gold and silver it was hardly surprising that the later works of the Austrian symbolist painter dazzled with the splendor of decorative elements. Klimt adorned every part of the canvas with geometrical and organic forms in gold and silver. It is only the size and bearing that Klimt rendered to Riedler’s stature that keeps her from being flooded by the decorative elements in the portrait.
Although not much is known about Fritza von Riedler, this painting was one of the artist’s most famous and admired work and strongly influenced Klimt’s younger contemporaries. The painting currently resides in the Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria.
Whistler’s Mother painted by American artist James McNeill Whistler was originally titled Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist’s Mother. The painting was rendered in interesting form: Whistler presented in it such overarching angularity that only the contour of Anna Whistler’s body provided an extent of visual respite.
Several unverifiable legends surround the well known painting. One is that the original portrait subject did not arrive on time, so the artist’s mother took her place. Another is that Mrs. Whistler, who was aged 67 during the painting of the picture was originally supposed to stand for the portrait, but growing tired, sat down for the remainder of her painting.
The painting has been referred to in popular culture to this day – movies, sitcoms, short stories, videogames, et all. (Remember the Mr. Bean movie where the cracked actor sneezes on the painting while overseeing its installation in a museum?) Whistler’s Mother is also looked at as a distinctive symbol of motherhood - The year 1934 had the U.S Post Office issue a stamp engraved with a stylized image of Whistler’s mother accompanied by the slogan "In Memory and In Honor of the Mothers of America."
Pablo Picasso and Henriette Theodora Markovitch, alias Dora Maar were together as a couple for a decade through the 1930s and 40s. The stunningly beautiful French photographer, poet and painter, was most famously known as Picasso’s private muse, model, companion, and intellectual partner.Their relationship was wild, stormy, and unconventional. Maar greatly suffered from Picasso’s mood swings but her love for him was unconditional. Picasso, who was known for the pain that he caused his lovers, often painted and depicted Maar in grotesque, appalling forms. Maar would often deny Picasso’s ethereal love for her by saying, “All his portraits of me are lies. They’re all Picassos. Not one is Dora Maar.”
However, the series of portraits he painted of her are Picasso’s most esteemed today.
It was one of her portraits that broke all records of their time - Dora Maar au Chat (Dora Maar with Cat) was auctioned at Sotheby's at a closing price of US$95,216,000 to a mystery bidder, making it one of the world's most expensive paintings ever sold.
Adele Bloch-Bauer was the wife of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy industrialist who sponsored the artist’s works and supported Gustav Klimt. Adele had an affair with Klimt that started in 1899 and lasted for several years. As a result, she was the only society lady whom Klimt painted twice. Adele also served as a model for his two depictions of Judith. The second picture of her, Adele Bloch-Bauer II, was completed in 1912.
The first portrait of the lady is a gold-flecked portrayal of a Viennese sugar magnate’s wife, and is made of extravagant decorative materials, typical to Klimt's style - It boasts of generous expanses of gold and silver leaf applied directly onto the canvas.
The original painting was plundered by the Nazis and only returned recently to the rightful heirs, who sold it in 2006 to Ronald Lauder for the Neue Galerie in New York for a record US $135 million - surpassing Picasso's Boy With a Pipe (sold for $104 million) as the highest reported price ever paid for a painting. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II was sold in November 2006 for $88 million, the third highest priced piece of art at an auction at that time.
Nothing official to be said about the Mona Lisa! Most people know that Leonardo da Vinci is the artist, but the woman’s identity is still a mystery to many. There are even some speculations that the lady in the painting is Leonardo da Vinci himself, in female form. However, the most commonly accepted theory is that the woman with the enigmatic smile is Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco di Bartolommeo - the man who may have commissioned the portrait.
To this day the Italians know the lady who was then 24 years and the mother of two sons as La Gioconda and the French, as Joconde, which literally translates to the jocund or playful one. Part of the painting’s fame is derived from the fact that it was stolen from the Louvre in Paris in a sensational heist by an Italian nationalist - but the painting was fortunately recovered two years later.
The mysterious lady presently resides in the Louvre Museum in Paris and is protected in a climate controlled environment and enclosed in bullet proof glass. This room was built especially for the painting and cost the museum over seven million dollars!