Arts Everyday Living: Art of Fashion–John Singer Sargent Portraits, In the Words of Chanel





American John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was the portrait painter of the “rich and famous” of the Gilded Age, including members of royalty as well as millionaires (and their families). Few artists can rival Sargent’s flare for fashion, utilizing his creative skills to capture a variety of styles, from the sleek, simplicity of Madame Gautreau’s revealing gown to the ornate complexity of the Wyndham sisters’ striking costumes.

So enjoy this gallery of some of Sargent’s most unforgettable works, along with the comments of designer Coco Chanel, among others.


John Singer Sargent, Madame X (Madame Gautreau), 1883-1884, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, U.S.

Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.

Coco Chanel (1883-1971)

I like Madame X; it’s amusing how scandalous an off-the-shoulder strap could be when a dress that was designed to be off the shoulder was totally acceptable as a ball gown!

Kay Oshel

She’s chic and she knows it!  Haughty by the look of her profile.  Coco really did know fashion.

Dana Kluegel


John Singer Sargent, Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892-1893, oil on canvas, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Fashion changes, but style endures.

Coco Chanel

Lady Agnew looks like a person I’d like to know…I love the soft colors of her dress…the lilac sash with the color picked up elsewhere…the unpretentious jewelry.

Kay Oshel

Soft colors and soft material of the dress plus her “come hither” look makes her very appealing.  Coco sure did get it right!


John Singer Sargent, Mr. and Mrs. Issac Newton Phelps Stokes, 1897, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, U.S.

Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have…more important offices than to merely keep us warm.  They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Mrs. Stokes seems even more of a person I’d like to know.  I like that she’s not wearing a ball gown, but instead she’s in sporting clothes and standing with such self-possession and jauntiness…I love the crisp white of her dress which is so dominant in the picture…her husband seems overshadowed by her, but his head is noticeably bigger. I laughed when I looked up the painting on the Metropolitan Museum’s website and read that he was supposed to have posed with a Great Dane, but when the dog became unavailable, her husband “offered to assume the role of the Great Dane.”

Kay Oshel

She’s in the spotlight with her neutral clothing colors but her major clothing item is that long WHITE floor length skirt and that is the REAL eye interest of that portrait.  It is about a diagram of neutral spaces…white, gold, black, etc. Virginia Woolf quotation.  I agree that clothes can and do often affect how we view the world AND how the world views us!

Dana Kluegel


John Singer Sargent, Madame Edouard Pailleron, 1879, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Women think of all colors except the absence of color.  I have said that black has it all.  White too. Their beauty is absolute.  It is the perfect harmony.

Coco Chanel

In the portrait of Madame Pailleron, I wonder whether she is holding down her skirt or pulling it up while the flash of the white petticoat may have been somewhat risqué.  It certainly contrasts nicely with the white of her throat…

Kay Oshel


John Singer Sargent, The Wyndham Sisters, 1899, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, U.S.

Style is a simple way of saying complicated things.

Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)

The Wyndham Sisters are so opulently dressed and languidly posed…I wonder the how the placement of the sisters was determined.  The one on the right perched on the back of the sofa is the oldest and highest ranking one since she’s titled Lady Elcho and her sisters are just Mrs.


John Singer Sargent, Nancy Viscountess Astor, 1908, oil on canvas, National Trust, Cliveden House, Taplow, Maidenhead, UK

A beautiful dress may look beautiful on a hanger, but that means nothing.  It must be seen on the shoulders, with the movement of the arms, the legs, and the waist.

Coco Chanel


John Singer Sargent, Lady and Child in a Punt under the Willows,1887, oil on canvas, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

We are expected to be pretty and well dressed until we drop.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937)


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