Interestingly enough, I discovered a publicity still from Gigi (1958) that has led me to believe that Gigi was inspired by, at least in some way, by Sargent's work. Gigi is one of my favorite movie musicals: visually stunning in its wonderful Technicolor, an incredible score by Lerner and Loewe, and a talented cast, led by Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Hermione Gingold, and Louis Jordan. Thank heaven for Gigi, it provides a lovely and idealized view of the lives of the upper class during la Belle Epoque, the term used to describe turn-of-the-century life in Paris during the time of Maxim's and the Folies Bergere.
Gigi is, in its most basic form, a multi-part love story. Mainly it concerns Gigi's change from a girl to a woman and her desire to be loved, not as a courtesan, but as a woman. But it's also a love story about prewar Paris and the beauty that once was. It's nostalgia in its most beautiful and musical form, and rather pleasant.
Anyhow, there is this one scene, when Gigi decides that she's going to be a courtesan to Gaston, and she's revealed wearing this absolutely gorgeous, elegant white dress. It's in this moment that Gaston realizes that she is no longer a girl, but is a grown, and quite attractive, woman. At first, he's disgusted by her change, but later realizes that he cares greatly for her, and returns to her. There are a few more ups and downs, but I'm not going to spoil the happy ending.
I've always been fascinated by Sargent's most famous painting, Portrait of Madame X. As a little back story, Sargent was always fascinated by the subject, a most singular lady named Virginie Gautreau. After many studies (which I'll shortly return to), he finally came to the painting we know and adore so much... almost. When he first showed the painting in 1884, Madame X (named so to protect her identity) was wearing one shoulder strap off her shoulder in a very provocative and sensual manner. People were outraged, there was scandal, Sargent repainted the strap and then went on to England and America where he would meet most of his success. But he always considered Madame X his finest piece, his magnum opus, and I'm inclined to agree with him. I'm so drawn in by her stunning beauty but also her aloof manner which Sargent so aptly is able to paint. I consider it as one of the greatest portraits ever painted.
While Sargent's Madame X scandal played out a few years before the fictional Gigi is set, no doubt you recognize similarities- not only between Sargent's works and Madame X in particular, but also between Madame X and that Gigi publicity still. Gigi appears as Madame X is white. The details are almost exact, down to the stance and the crescent moon crown, a symbol of Diana, goddess of the hunt.
As a quick aside- I'm swamped with schoolwork lately, so I may not be able to get as many posts out in November as I'm usually able to. I still have a few more Sargent posts that I want to release and then I'll probably celebrate my 100th post and do something special for Christmas to finish off the year. Keep reading my faithful followers!
|Portrait of Madame X|
John Singer Sargent (1884)
|Sargent's study for Madame X|
|Gigi Publicity still|
|"Thank heaven for the Art of Film."|