Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau

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Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau
Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), John Singer Sargent, 1884 (unfree frame crop).jpg
John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1884, oil on canvas, 234.95 x 109.86 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Born Virginie Amélie Avegno
29 January 1859
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Died 25 July 1915 (aged 56)
Cannes, France
Nationality American
Ethnicity French, Italian
Known for Subject of John Singer Sargent's painting Portrait of Madame X
Spouse(s) Pierre Gautreau

Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau (née Avegno, 29 January 1859[1] – 25 July 1915) was born in New Orleans but grew up from the age of eight in France, where she became a Parisian socialite known for her beauty. She occasionally posed as a model for notable artists. She is most widely known as the subject of John Singer Sargent's painting Portrait of Madame X (1884). It created a social scandal when shown at the Paris Salon.

Of European Creole ancestry, Virginie was taken at the age of eight by her widowed mother to France in 1867 following the American Civil War. She was educated in Paris and married Pierre Gautreau, a wealthy businessman.

Early life and education

Gautreau was born Virginie Amélie Avegno in New Orleans, Louisiana, on 29 January 1859, the daughter of Anatole Placide Avegno (3 July 1835 – 7 April 1862) and Marie Virginie de Ternant of Parlange Plantation, a descendant of French nobility. She had a sister, Valentine Marie, who died as a young child of yellow fever. Their parents were white Creoles; their father Anatole was the son of Philippe Avegno (originally Italian) and Catherine Genois.

Her father Anatole Avegno served as a major in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War; he died in 1862 in the Battle of Shiloh. He was the commander of the Avegno Zouaves of New Orleans, a cosmopolitan battalion which had soldiers from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds including French, Spanish, Mexican, Irish, Italian, Chinese, German, Dutch, and Filipino.

In 1867, when Virginia was eight years old, her widowed mother moved with her to France. The girl was educated in Paris and introduced to high French society.


Virginie Avegno became one of Paris's conspicuous beauties, as she was a pale-skinned brunette with fine, cameo-like features and an hourglass figure. She was known to use lavender-colored face and body powder to enhance her complexion, to dye her hair with henna, and to color her eyebrows. She attracted much admiration due to her elegance and style.

Marriage and family

She married Pierre Gautreau, a French banker and shipping magnate. She had a daughter named Louise Gautreau (1879-1911).

Madame X

She posed for paintings by several noted 19th-century painters, including Gustave Courtois and Antonio de La Gándara.[2]

Most famously, she was the model for John Singer Sargent's Portrait of Madame X. The painting created a cultural scandal when it was exhibited in 1884 at the Paris Salon. The suggestiveness of the portrait and the style of clothing were considered scandalous, as well as publicizing Gautreau's reputation. Such a high-class woman would not usually be a model. The scandal caused Gautreau to retire from society for some time.

Antonio de La Gándara painted a full-length portrait of her, entitled Madame Gautreau (1898). In tonality of colors, privacy of her face, and style of her dress, it was more conservative than Sargent's painting.


Gautreau died in Cannes on 25 July 1915. She was buried in the Gautreau family crypt at their Chateau des Chênes in Saint-Malo, Brittany.

Representation in other media

  • Gautreau's and Sargent's intertwined stories are the subject of Strapless (2004) by Deborah Davis.
  • Gautreau is also the subject of I Am Madame X: A Novel (2004) by Gioia Diliberto.


  1. New Orleans parish Birth Records 1859
  2. "La Gandara Timeline". Retrieved 31 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links