John Singer Sargent was considered the leading portrait painter of his generation. After securing a commission, he would often review a client’s wardrobe to pick suitable attire.
It was a dress that caused the greatest stir of Sargent’s career. Painting a portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau (1859-1915), Sargent emphasized her daring personal style, showing the right strap of her gown slipping from her shoulder. When finally displayed at the Salon of 1884, the portrait received scathing reviews and the subject and her family were mortified. Sargent repainted the shoulder strap and kept the work for over thirty years. When, eventually, he sold it to the Metropolitan, he commented, “I suppose it is the best thing I have done,” but asked that the Museum disguise the sitter’s name.