The Balcony is one Édouard Manet’s most popular paintings, but when it debuted it was the subject of much controversy. It is a study in contrasts: shadow and light, color, and types of fashionable dress in the late 1860s.
In Sargent’s most famous portrait, Virginie Gautreau, a celebrated American beauty living in Paris, dresses in daring advance of fashion–the unadorned simplicity of the dress makes it appear modern even today. Her apparent lack of underwear and daringly dropped shoulder strap (later repainted by Sargent) in combination with her heavy makeup and seeming indifference to the viewer provoked scandal when the work was first exhibited in the 1884 Paris Salon.
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