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Just how inspiring is Paris? In his latest tome, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, Pulitzer-winning historian David McCullough explains just how the City of Light influenced some of America’s greatest artists, from Mark Twain and Harriet Beacher Stowe to John Singer Sargent. It isn’t just a dry history lesson, though. He uncovers career-changing scandals like painter Singer Sargent’s obsession with Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, his infamous “Madame X,” above. Between the low décolleté of her gown and her pale, powdered cheeks, the portrait caused a Parisian stir and seriously compromised the young lady’s honor. That’s just one tale McCullough uncovers.

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