John Singer Sargent began painting the portrait entitled Madame Ramon Subercaseaux in 1880 and concluded it during the next year. Although the artist was only twenty-four years old, he had already achieved considerable successes after being awarded Honorable Mention by the Paris Salon of 1879. The artwork the Salon granted was a portrait of Sargent’s teacher at the time, Carolus-Duran.
Duran guided Sargent into a different path of his career, not being so strictly led by the traditional rules of the Classic Academies. The artist gradually began bending these rules, getting positive attention from the critics. During this period, Sargent became receiving many offers for commissioned portraits for patrons of the high society. The painting Madame Ramon Subercaseaux is an example of one of the artist’s more traditional portraits. The sitter, Madam Subercaseaux, was a young twenty-year-old woman and had recently married to the Chilean consul to Paris.
In Madam Subercaseaux’s diary, historians found passages about her experience with the artist. She wrote about how she got to know Sargent’s work by seeing the painting Fumee d’Ambris Gris in an exhibit and was able to arrange for a sitting just a couple of days later. She also states she found the artist’s studio to be “very poor and bohemian,” but treated him as a friend because she saw him as a “very attractive gentleman.” The model wrote about how he went to her apartment and handled everything himself, from the clothing, the arranging the composition. Madam Subercaseaux did not mind sitting hours for the painter, for she didn’t find them to be heavy or long, stating that this same lightness was achieved in his final work.
Other details were revealed about Sargent in Madam’s Subercaseaux’s diary, like how she felt he was at ease and very secure about his work. She wrote about how he loved music, and she played some while he painted. They shared a mutual love for the composer Gottschalk and his South American and Spanish dances. In her portrayal, Madam Subercaseaux resembles a Spanish dancer herself, with a white dress with black details, a lot of lace and ruffles. The red flower on her chest and her hair give a special touch of color, that contrasts with the royal blue floor. She is sitting at a piano, with her right hand on the keys and turning back on the chair towards the viewer.
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