This painting is an example of the somewhat decadent and super refined world of Aestheticism in Paris. Its followers believed in art for art’s sake, with no obligation to promote morality or tell a story. Aesthetes believed that art shouldn’t imitate life; instead, art is about the search for abstract beauty.
Dr. Pozzi is an example of the artfulness that permeated this movement. His appearance is carefully cultivated, with a flamboyant flair tied into the sensuality of his hands. His fingers are playing with the neck of his robe, while his other hand is dragging down the tasseled cord. Many people of the time thought that Sargent was pushing the boundaries of good taste with this portrait, partly because of how he portrayed Dr. Pozzi, but also because this portrait was not commissioned; Sargent approached Dr. Pozzi about painting his likeness, and this was the result.