@ The Black Box Theatre, 430 N. Main St.

Biography Month - Painting Madame X

By Bob Diven, directed by Mark Medoff

Mar 11-Mar 27, 2005

FRI MAR 11 | 8:00 PM
SAT MAR 19 | 8:30 PM
SUN MAR 13 | 7:00 PM
THUR MAR 24 | 7:00 PM
SAT MAR 26 | 6:00 PM
SUN MAR 27 | 2:30 PM


About John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent was born in Florence, Italy, on January 12, 1856. His parents were Americans from Philadelphia; Fitzwilliam, a physician, and Mary Newbold Singer Sargent. After the death of their first child, Fitzwilliam and Mary went abroad for a period of recovery that lasted the rest of their lives.

The Sargent children were born and raised in Europe, among a shifting community of fellow expatriates. The surviving children (John, the oldest, along with his sisters Emily and Violet) were basically "home schooled", and John grew up leaming the languages of the many countries the family would call home. Bath of his parents were artistically gifted, so painting and drawing expeditions were a natural part of his youth. John's own artistic talents soon became apparent, and his parents secured for him what additional education they could, eventually moving to Paris when John was 16 to enroll him in the atelier of the painter Carolus Duran. As bath an American, and Duran's youngest pupil, John Sargent created a stir with his precocious ability, and soon became his teacher's favorite student. In a few years, John's first paintings were accepted for exhibition at the prestigious annual Salon in Paris. His future success seemed assured. At least until the scandal, in the Salon of 1884 surrounding his "Portrait of Madame X", played its part in moving him away from Paris.

John Sargent eventually became the best known portrait painter of his time, finding success and recognition both in England, where he eventually settled, and in America, to which he made regular working visits of some duration throughout his adult life.

Around 1905, however, he shocked his public by announcing his "retirement" from portrait painting, choosing to focus his vast energies on his landscape painting and his growing commissions for mural and decorative work. Many of his upper-class would-be sitters refused to take no for an answer. Therefore, in spite of his reluctance, some measure of portrait work remained a factor in his life.

Awards were piled upon Sargent in his lifetime as well as numerous honorary degrees. He was member of the major art academies of the time, a teacher and a champion of other artists and composers he considered of merit. He was also an accomplished musician and, though known for his awkwardness in public, entertained his close friends and family with boisterous musical performances of his favorite operas, accompanying himself on the piano.

He loved food, cigars, opera, theater and the symphony, and he loved to paint. He never married, and he left no diary. He worked until the day he died. On April 15, 1925, after spending the day helping to crate the latest installment in his Boston Public Library mural series, John S. Sargent died in his sleep at the age of 69.

A changing art world inevitably left John Sargent behind, but in time his obvious gifts came, again, to be recognized, and his brilliant portraits of an age now gone treasured once more.

The selling for the play is the artist's studio in London on the evening of January 8, 1916.


John Singer Sargent
Costume Designer
Light Board Operator
Light Board Operator
Lighting Designer
Set And Properties Design And Construction
Set And Properties Design And Construction
Stage Manager
Written By


Local 'Renaissance man' adds one more title to his résumé: playwright
- By S. Derrickson Moore, Sun-News

"Renaissance man" is a common phrase used to describe Las Crucen Bob Diven.

He's a celebrated visual artist known for everything from his award-winning fine arts portraits and sensitive paintings to graphic art designs for beer labels and the giant dragon sculpture at the Doña Ana Arts Council's Renaissance Craftfaire.

He's also a musician, singer, songwriter and recording artist who performs solo and with several regional groups. He's a set designer and graphic artist. He designs and builds suits of armor and airplanes.

He's also an actor and now a playwright.

The Renaissance man lives up to his title with "Painting Madame X," which premieres at 8 p.m. today at the Black Box Theatre, 430 N. Downtown Mall.

Diven wrote and stars in the one-man show. He created the play poster, did the stage set and props (including a breathtaking painting that figures heavily in the play's subtly dramatic climax). He also creates art onstage, sketching, doing a bit of singing and playing both piano and banjo.

He does it all very well, while simultaneously channeling the spirit of legendary artist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). He does just about everything, in fact, but direct.

For that task, he recruited longtime friend and collaborator Mark Medoff.

The play begins in 50-something Sargent's London studio. He greets a visitor and shares reminiscences about a pivotal time in his career decades earlier, during the American expatriot's days in Paris, when his 1884 exhibition of his "Portrait of Madame X" generated a scandal.

Just why such a relatively modest work could trigger such an uproar remains a major mystery even today and invites some interesting comparisons with contemporary controversies.

Was it an early precursor of Janet Jackson's much publicized "wardrobe malfunction"?

Were there undercurrents of Franco-American animosities, a reverse take on the recent hostilities that had some Americans calling for a boycott of French fries?

In that era, France considered itself the superpower in the world of art. Upstart American Sargent was winning an alarming number of prizes and accolades. And his model, Madame Gautreau, was considered the most beautiful woman in Paris ... but she was an American, too, born in Louisiana.

The play touches on such issues, but mostly, it is a thoughtful and thought-provoking examination of one artist's life and the passions and dilemmas surrounding the creative process.

In a dress rehearsal, Diven demonstrated the talents and insights that a working artist can bring to this unique work.

Starting with a laid-back, conversational tone, he examines Sargent's life. As he plays a tune and improvises a sarcastic banjo ditty, he reminisces about roads not taken and artistic choices he regrets. He expresses impatience with the public's clamor for him to paint portraits, a genre he has abandoned, and wonders if he has "used up life's entire allotment of my charm."

Sargent, who never married, decides he "gave myself to my art."

In his final years, he realizes that the portraiture he has come to despise was perhaps the source of his most profound and deep human interactions, during " ... hundreds of my most intimate encounters, with persons I painted."

Still, he protests, the public is inclined to "read too much or too little" into his art, and concludes that "both diminish what is there. When did beauty become not enough?"

With a collection of Diven's own drawings and the aforementioned portrait, Diven shows how Sargent agonized over poses and moods before settling on the final portrait that would scandalize visitors to the Paris Salon of 1884.

He munches on grapes, peels an apple, cracks and consumes nuts and dashes off charcoal sketches, as if to rethink, re-consume and redraw a crucial time in the artist's life.

This is a highly original, deep and entertaining work with particular appeal for those interested in art and artists, as well as for anyone who has had second thoughts about life's twists, turns and ultimate directions.

Six performances rotate through March 27 with two other Black Box Biography Month plays, "Doc Holliday and the Angel of Mercy" and "Belle of Amherst."


No seating plan has been posted.


Our next production is Animal Tales The normal ticketing system will be used but you may only select the number of seats you require and we will assign seats to comply with NM Covid requirements. You may request row 1, 2, 3, or 4 and we will do our best to honor your request. Please see the event pages for details.

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