Scandal by Barbara Lydecker Crane

Madame X, by John Singer Sargent, Paris, 1843-4

At last, when she allowed me to depict her,
this married beauty linked to love affairs,
the critics brayed I’d broken every stricture–
her brazen stance, décolleté, her air
aloof–as if with scorn, her head is turned
aside. She flaunts herself and yet withdraws,
a self-preservation I have learned.
Beyond this daring portrait, did I cause
reproof for what in me I must conceal?
Despite the furor, I did not take this out
of public view. The work is vital, real–
and over time, its scandal gave me clout:
what once made Paris critics blanch and fret
now flaunts its beauty at the New York Met.

by Barbara Lydecker Crane, first published in Think

Editor’s Note: This ekphrastic sonnet gives voice to the artist and art history simultaneously, with impressively rhymed lines. Also, if you’ve never seen this painting at the Met, I highly recommend it. It’s luminous in person.

2 thoughts on “Scandal by Barbara Lydecker Crane

  1. Oy vey!!!! Sounds just awful!! I hope u find some viable options. Why not an aide to help out? They must be regularly tested, no? Who knows what’s safe anymore🙄. As for the AS poem, I didn’t luv it. There’s always something so forced in a formal poem. I get no joy from the gymnastics required to fit a poem into a strict format. Just my feeling. I thought the last line was very trite compared with the rest of the poem, as if it were there just for the rhyme.

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Thank you for your evocative and acerbly attractive poem. as it happens I only recently reread Deborah Davis’s marvelous book “Strapless,” about Madame Gautreau, Sargent,and the painting, which dazzles me every time I have seen those lambent white shoulders in the flesh. Your skill as a formalist really enhances the slightly wayward elegance of your poem.


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