I always love a "making of" or "behind the scenes" story, sometimes more than the work itself. I can't tell you how many movies have disappointed me when I finally saw them after reading abou tthem for years.
Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X tells the story of what is probably Sargent's most famous painting (I throw in that "probably" just because I'm not enough of an art historian to make a definitive statement). Nearly seven feet tall, the painting shows a woman with unearthly pale skin, wearing a black dress that appears to be held up by nothing--the thin jeweled straps are merely decorative--stands in a half turn so her body is in full view and her face in profile. She looks distant, both hidden and unseen, coming and going.
Originally titled "Portrait of Mme De...," Singer made the painting his official entry in the 1884 Paris Salon, the biggest art event of the year. Sargent had been exhibiting at the Salon since 1877 and had known nothing but success. The young American artist had been building a lucrative portrait painting business, but the painting of the woman in black nearly destroyed him. From the moment the Salon opened, visitors stood in front of it staring, not because they admired the work, but because they were horrified that any artist would dare exhibit something so awful in public. They hated her ghastly pallor, her barely there (by 19th century standards) and her confident sexuality. The critical reception was just as bad. Sargent was mortified. The mother of the woman in the painting wrote to Sargent demanding that he remove the painting from the Salon, stating that her daughter was in tears, her reputation in shreds.