Madame Errazuriz

7:00 AM

Madame Errazuriz, John Singer Sargent, 1882
By LIBBY ROHR

Scrolling through Sargent paintings gives me roughly the same feeling as being thrown back in time to a fancy dinner party or gala, passing by a million faces, some of which I recognize, most I do not. A few give me the vague sensation I've seen them before, and I assume they must be important for being in that lineup but who's to say from only a glance whether one lovely lady was worth more than another.

Madame Errazuriz caught my eye with her bright, dewy complexion, poking out of a sea of black scenery. Her friendly smile and kind eyes seemed to glow in contrast with her dark surroundings and beautiful black dress. The color palate on this piece is stunning, similar to a reinvigorated Rembrandt, the dark and light makes the lady all the more striking. Painters throughout history have been able to accomplish portraiture as well as Sargent, but what sets him apart is his ability to capture not only a handsome representation of the person in question but their personality as well.  Here, sticking out from a sea of black and maroon, Madame Errazuriz has a friendly, welcoming smile and open body language, contrasting sharply against most other high class ladies Sargent painted. Warm and accessible, Sargent portrays Madame Errazuriz as an inviting and confident individual, which by all accounts, matches the real personality of Eugenia Errazuriz.

She is undoubtedly beautiful, but it’s simple beauty. When compared to some of the other women Sargent painted, she seems almost plain. Also unlike the others, she rose to influence of her own accord rather than as the wife of a prominent man and was actually famous for her simplicity. In her lifetime, she ran with the Parisian socialites and artists alike and is thought to be the mother of modern minimalistic interior design. She took pride in this lack of flair, and for her, it signified far more beauty than the crowded flash of those around her. Rather than regaling her with jewels or fancy beaded straps, or an extravagant gown and background, Sargent puts her against a plain backdrop, with a simple maroon couch, in an elegant, yet understated black dress, making her pop all the more. In using her own style, he made what appears to be a simple portrait of a graceful lady into a true representation of her own beauty and character. That's why we're so drawn to Sargent's portraiture, and that's why I could walk in his fancy dinner party of faces for hours and never get bored. Sargent didn't just paint faces - he painted souls.

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