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I Am Madame X

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  2,287 Ratings  ·  162 Reviews
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 Paris career. In this remarkable novel, Gioia Diliberto tells Virginie's story, drawing on the sketchy historical facts to re-creat ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published May 11th 2004 by Scribner (first published March 18th 2003)
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Louise
Sep 18, 2015 Louise rated it really liked it
This is a fictional treatment of Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau, the “Madame X” of John Singer Sargent’s famous portrait. It was published in 2003, just one year too soon to benefit from Strapless, the first book length biography of Madame Gautreau.

The story begins on the family's plantation in Louisiana. Gioia Diliberto created a thrilling escape scene (the Union Army threatens their estate) worthy of Hollywood movie. In reality, their flight was probably quite dull. In Paris they did not set
...more
Carol
Sep 01, 2012 Carol rated it really liked it
After reading this story about Virginia Gautreau's life and John Singer Sargent's scandalous portrait, I had to go to NYC to see it in person at the MET. It is stunning and if you look on an angle from the left side, you can see where Sargent painted over the other strap, but you can only see it by the light. I love all of Sargent's work, he was extremely talented. I did like the story of Virginia's life, born in New Orleans, raised by a prominent Creole family, later fled to Paris because of th ...more
Tanya Daigle
Aug 29, 2007 Tanya Daigle rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: no one
This book had potential and fell short. I enjoyed the author's choice of genre but I don't think she took advantage of the available material surrounding the heroine's life and family. It was disappointing that Virginie, the woman whom the book is about, was portrayed as a woman who had the advantage of her famous beauty but never used it in a powerful way. Also, the book could have been alot more interesting if the author had delved more into the other characters dramatic lives.
Amy
The story was good, the retelling of history was good, but I found the book oddly detached, almost passionless. It was interesting to read of the world that Mimi inhabited, and to learn the history behind the famous painting. Books such as this make me spend hours at my computer googling the paintings mentioned and I had a blast doing that. Seeing the picture of Dr Pozzi, I can see where Mimi was attracted to him!

The other question I had, is regarding Aunt Julie and her friends. Did Aunt Julie j
...more
Patrick
Oct 19, 2009 Patrick rated it it was ok
Although an entertaining read, this book's prose is average and there is no major lessons to be learned.

In this historical fiction account, Virginie Gautreau is a 19th century equivalent of today's version of model/actress socialite who is thrown by her social climbing mother into French society.

The few things I got out of this book are 1) Children need a stable environment to grow up properly 2) Exposing children to success at young age without having to work for it causes them to have a sense
...more
Natasha
Apr 02, 2011 Natasha rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Briansmom
Jul 26, 2011 Briansmom rated it it was ok
Unfortunately, this book just wasn't that good. This was the author's first novel; I think that she should stick to biographies. Her storytelling lacked something. I never felt that she ever got into the subject's (Virginie Gatreau) head: it seemed that each chapter was one long recitative of what happened (just the facts, ma'am) without any interjections of feeling or much insight, like: "I went here. Then I went there. People weren't nice to me. I was really sad." etc. etc. The characters them ...more
Sara
Apr 28, 2013 Sara rated it liked it
Well, this was very interesting, and the tone was quite fitting. I enjoyed it.
I kept wondering, though, how much of this was fact, or based-on-fact. I knew not all of it was -- and this was a much better way of going about imparting sketchy-to-no information than Tilar Mazzeo did with The Widow Clicquot.
But then I got to the end and found out that not only is 99% of this book fictionalized, but a surprisingly large amount of it is an outright lie. And lo, I was very angry for quite some time. I
...more
KJ Grow
Feb 19, 2013 KJ Grow rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
I don't know why I have this thing where I force myself to finish books I don't really like. While I found the timepiece aspect of this book enjoyable, the protagonist is so vain, shallow, and unlikeable that I actually found myself annoyed with the author for paying homage to this woman with no real depth or purpose or moral compass. John Singer Sargeant makes an entrance as a character only about 75% of the way through the book, and we actually learn very little about him.
Sarah
Sep 08, 2013 Sarah rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
Liked it more than I expected to. Sometimes these historical/art-related novels can be a bit dumb, but this one was pretty smart and clearly well researched.
Joshua
Oct 10, 2016 Joshua rated it it was ok
Gioia Diliberto’s “I Am Madame X” is meh. But I cannot quite pinpoint exactly why it is meh. The writing is straightforward, suitably descriptive, and elegant enough. The narrative itself is not uninteresting (creole belle flees civil-war Louisiana and rises through Parisian society via her beauty and tendency to pop-a-breast at the opera), and the novel clips by at a decent pace… and yet… and yet…. “I Am Madame X” never quite comes together.

I think perhaps the novel’s chief flaw lies in its
...more
Kristine Brancolini
Aug 26, 2016 Kristine Brancolini rated it really liked it
I read about the painting "Portrait of Madame X" in the book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and became intrigued with its subject Virginie (Mimi) Gautreau. In I Am Madame X Gioia Diliberto takes what little is known about Mimi and creates a plausible fiction to tell her story.

Born in Louisiana in 1859, she left the U.S. with her mother and younger sister during the Civil War, after her father was killed at the Battle of Shiloh. Diliberto plays with Virginie's birthdate, making her several
...more
Annette
Mar 01, 2013 Annette rated it really liked it
I Am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto revolves around the life of Virginie Gautreau, the woman who posed for John Singer Sargent’s infamous painting, Madame X. To the current-day eye the portrait is of an elegant woman wearing a beautiful, sleek black dress. The waist is small and defined. The deep V-neckline, almost modest for today, revealed a lot of skin in the 1800s. But more shockingly was the fact that one strap was dangling off her shoulder in a come-hither attitude. Gasp. That “slutty” pictur ...more
Amanda
May 28, 2010 Amanda rated it it was ok
I wanted this book to be better. I think maybe it's because the main character, Virginie, wasn't particularly likable or hugely sympathetic. It was a fascinating time period to read about- as an American, you don't hear too much about Europe during this time.

Ultimately, I wanted to know more about Virginie and Sargent. More about Sargent, really. I know the author is limited by historical facts and the framework within which to speculate, but I came away wanting...more. Perhaps not much has bee
...more
Lorraine
Jan 22, 2012 Lorraine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I continue to explore one of my favorite cities, Paris, through fiction. I broke one of my cardinal rules and selected a fictionalized biography. What a delight to dive into era with a main character, Virginie, who was larger than life with a reputation to match

Virginie was a vain glorious woman who was born prior to the Civil War and grew up on a plantation in Louisiana. She moved to Paris as a teen and the city became the playground for her glamorous persona and sexual conquests. Virginie was
...more
Christine
Nov 10, 2011 Christine rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011-reads
With this book I once again traveled to 19th century Paris. One of personal favorite periods of history in terms of art, artists and the cultural revolution that was taking place. The painting of Madame X by John Singer Sargent was unveiled at the Paris Salon of 1884. Being accustomed to the negative critique of the “new” art it was no surprise that this painting caused an uproar among critics. However, the scandalous and provocative subject also shocked the public (and put an end to Mr. Sargent ...more
Rosanna Leo
Jan 07, 2015 Rosanna Leo rated it really liked it
I Am Madame X is an interesting book, one I had trouble putting down. Written as a fictional account, but based on real people, it tells the story behind artist John Singer Sargent's famous portrait of Madame X. This painting may look like a beautiful piece of art now, but in 1884 it scandalized the Parisian art world. It's subject, a society lady named Virginie Gautreau, was renowned for her appearance, famous for being uniquely gorgeous. Author Gioia Diliberto writes she has always been fascin ...more
Jennifer Payne
Mar 09, 2012 Jennifer Payne rated it liked it
Shelves: library-book
Interesting imagining of the life and loves of the woman in JS Sargent's famous painting. Louisiana-born Virginie Gautreau took Paris by storm and was a professional beauty and society woman at the top of her game when fellow American Sargent begged to paint her portrait. The narrative was superb and well-imagined, yet at the risk of coming across as a reviewer who finds three spelling errors and a wrong date and then completely pans the work, I did have a couple of quibbles with the story--most ...more
Sarah
Jan 04, 2009 Sarah rated it it was ok
This book was written by a woman whose previous works have been non-fiction biographies, and apparently, when she switched to fiction, she decided this meant she could still say she was writing about real people, but change important details of their lives. For starters, she made her main character four years older than the woman whose life she ostensibly represents, in order to be able to narrate events that happened before the family left New Orleans for Paris. (The author admits this in an au ...more
Leonide Martin
Jun 06, 2013 Leonide Martin rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Readers interested in art, Paris, creole culture
The stunning portrait by John Singer Sargent has always captivated me. The story Diliberto weaves from fragments of historical information is both satisfying and intriguing. Its especially meaningful to me (born in New Orleans, grew up in southern Louisiana) because of my interest in French creole culture. The story engages from the start, with distinct and colorful minor characters and intense incidents as the Civil War spreads into Louisiana. Virginie Gautreau captivates and frustrates as she ...more
Lani
Dec 06, 2007 Lani rated it liked it
I saw the Sargent painting of Madame X when it was in DC and it is quite eye-catching. Of course viewing it now there's nothing scandalous about it, but the woman's profile and the unique pose are striking. The placard next to the painting mentioned some of the drama that was associated with it - and it's shockingly draping dress strap - but that was all I knew about it.

Diliberto brings several luscious settings to life in this book, the pseudo-French aristocracy of Civil War and Reconstruction
...more
Mary Ahern
Feb 22, 2012 Mary Ahern rated it it was ok
Shelves: art, fiction, historical
Though I like the concept of this novel which is memoir supposedly written by Virginia Gautreau, the "Madame X" painted by the artist John Singer Sargent in Paris and shown at the salon in 1884. Sketching the various locations and styles of that era provides the backdrop of the characters and events.

This is the first novel by a writer of non-fiction biographies. I find the language problematic. None of the characters come to life through their phrasing or dialects. The book ranges from Creoles
...more
Tristy
Aug 28, 2012 Tristy rated it liked it
This book has huge potential. It's based on next to no actual historical documentation of the personal life of the woman in this famous painting (as the Acknowledgements say), so the author could have really created a rich and wild personal life story. Instead, she tells the story of a vapid, self-obsessed, angry woman who literally obsesses about her looks through the entire novel, and yet has no emotional reaction to getting old, which she inevitably does. I'd much rather read the story of the ...more
Margaret
Aug 08, 2016 Margaret rated it really liked it
Engaging novel that fictionalizes the subject of John Singer Sargent's painting on the cover of the book, "Portrait of Madame X," in real life Virginie Gautreau. Mme. Gautreau was born in Louisiana before the American Civil War, and later moved to Paris with her mother during that war when she was an older child. While she later spent some time back in LA, she lived in Paris throughout her life. Little is known of her - or, as the author writes, not enough to justify a biography - and so author ...more
Alan Wells
Mar 21, 2012 Alan Wells rated it it was amazing
The author has created for us a character who is as compelling and mysterious as the likeness of her in the famous and infamous, Portrait of Madame X. She has also provided an entertaining and illuminating look at society during the later half of the 19th century. Even without the basis of the story stemming from the actual painting, it still would have been fascinating and every bit as readable.

Through a multi-faceted view of the character, Virginie Gautreau, I gained in this novel, her portrai
...more
Marie
Jul 27, 2014 Marie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: artist-reads
If you've ever wondered, after seeing John Singer Sargent's life size painting of Madame X in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who the model for this mysterious and seductive portrait was, this novel reveals the mystery.

Virginie Gatreau, a Parisian socialite whose goal in life was to be 'beautiful' was the model. She was not without scandal, taking many lovers and living an avant garde lifestyle. She was finally able, late in life, to find joy and value in things beyond her superficial appearance
...more
Johanna
Nov 29, 2011 Johanna rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
The gorgeous Virginie Gatreau narrates her own tale about how she came to be regarded as one of the most beautiful and alluring women in France. Virginie is an American expatriate living in France, who is both prised and victimised for her remarkable features, later to be depicted in the art of John Singer Sargent's scandalous 1884 painting Portrait of Madame X. I enjoyed this book as a light and romantic read into the luxurious life of an icon of beauty. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of ...more
Abbey
Oct 27, 2012 Abbey rated it liked it
Shelves: art-history


Great book if you are interested in art history, It gives a snapshot of Paris in the mid-to-late 19th century and the lifestyle of the bourgoise. It also includes quite a lot of plotline based around both the American civil war and the fall of Napolean also when she is living in Paris. I think most readers will enjoy being pulled in to the lavish bourgoise lifestyle and it's excesses, where beauty, money and reputation (and tabloids) were just as important to celebrities then as they are today.
...more
Ericafoferica
Jul 16, 2012 Ericafoferica rated it liked it
I thought this book was good, it just wasn't THAT good. After reading portions of the Acknowledgements, and the author admitting she didn't have much material to work with, I felt as if she didn't use it to her full advantage. There is so much potential to be had, but yet it just wasn't there. It would have been nice to learn more about the other characters and have them more developed into the storyline. Instead, it was mostly about Mimi and her beauty. I understand that this book is based on, ...more
Audrey
Jun 28, 2010 Audrey rated it liked it
While I absolutely love the portrait that inspired this book, I wasn't completely won over by the book itself. It's catagorized as historical fiction, but not much is really known about Madame X (real name: Virginie Avegno Gautreau) and I felt the author took a lot of creative license. I personally like a little more history and less fiction when reading this genre. That said, it inspired me to review my books on John Singer Sargeant, who paints such lovely portraits and I did enjoy learning mor ...more
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Madison Mega-Mara...: I am Madam X 1 2 Nov 06, 2012 08:19AM  
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  • Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet
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  • Life Studies: Stories
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  • The Wreck of the Medusa: The Most Famous Sea Disaster of the Nineteenth Century
  • I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century's Greatest Forger
  • The Ruby Ring
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  • Leaving Van Gogh
  • The Private Lives of the Impressionists
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Gioia Diliberto is the author of five books – two historical novels and three non-fiction. She specializes in writing about women’s lives and has been a contributor to many publications, including The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian, Town & Country, and Vanity Fair. She first got the idea of writing about Hadley Richardson while reading A Moveable Feast ...more
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“After she found out Aurelie was a Negro, Mama became obsessed with the color of my skin, as if Aurelie's hidden blackness had been contagious and I might have caught a touch of it. Whenever she saw me, she stared at me with furrowed brow and complained that I was losing my "bloom." To protect me from the sun, she gave me a parasol to carry when I went out with her, and a straw hat to wear in the convent garden. Still, she worried.” 0 likes
“I had thought photography could reflect the truth of a woman's beauty. But after seeing these horrible prints, I decided it was an imperfect art, impossible for the photographer and sitter to control. Painting, on the other hand, I began to believe, could reveal something greater than reality. In the right hands with the right chemistry between artist and sitter, painting could illuminate a higher truth. More to the point, it had the power to immortalize. A beautiful woman captured on canvas is eternally youthful, eternally adored. I thought of Shakespeare's description of Cleopatra: "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.” 0 likes
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