Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherfurd White made quite an impact on her expatriate acquaintances in Europe. Novelist Edith Wharton recalled her striking beauty: "It is hard to picture nowadays the shell-like transparence, the luminous red-and-white, of those young cheeks untouched by paint or powder, in which the blood came and went like the lights of an aurora." Although she appears rather serious in this formal portrait, Mrs. White—called "Daisy"—was known to be quite lively in her social pursuits. As the author Henry James wrote from London in 1888: "The happy American here, beyond all others, is Mrs. Henry White."
When Gilded Age aristocrats and socialites wanted someone who could capture both their gifts and their status, they called on John Singer Sargent. Paris was the artist's home from 1874, when he began study there with the well-known portraitist Carolus-Duran, until 1886, when he moved to London. He frequently exhibited portraits at the annual Paris Salon, which led to many new assignments. Such was the case with this likeness of the wealthy Daisy White. Upon seeing Sargent's Lady with the Rose (1882, The Metropolitan Museum of Art) at the Salon of 1882, White arranged her commission. The subject came from a prominent academic and social New York lineage and in 1879 had married diplomat Henry White, scion of a distinguished Maryland family. When White requested her portrait at age 29, her husband was the First Secretary of the American legation in Paris. The couple lived mostly in that city before Henry White was posted to Vienna in 1883 (and later to London).
Sargent began the portrait in late 1882, and worked on it alongside the painting of another American woman living in Paris, Virginie Amélie Gautreau (Madame X, 1884, The Metropolitan Museum of Art). However, White left Paris for obligations in the south of France after only a few sittings. Gathering up the enormous and unusually wide canvas, the artist followed her and kept "brushing away" on the portrait in Nice and back in his Paris studio. The virtuoso handling of the dress—featuring a dazzling array of white fabrics of varying texture, including satin, lace, and tulle—and of the highlights on the fan and opera glasses makes the subject glow against the elegant chaise and muted background.
lower right: John S. Sargent 1883
Commissioned 1883 by Mr. [1850-1927] and Mrs. [1854-1916] Henry White, Paris; by inheritance 1927 to their son, John Campbell White [1884-1967], New York; gift 1949 to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.
- The One Hundred and Sixteenth Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 5 May - 4 August 1884, no. 788, as Mrs. H. White.
- Société internationale de peinture: quatrième année, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 15 May - June 1885.
- Exposition universelle de 1889, Palais du Champ de Marts, Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 5 May - 5 November 1889, checklist no. 263 (Etats-Unis), as Mrs. W.
- Sixth Exhibition: Oil Paintings by Contemporary American Artists, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 17 December 1916 - 21 January 1917, no. 216, as Mrs. Henry White.
- Retrospective Exhibition of Important Works of John Singer Sargent, Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, 23 February - 22 March 1924, no. 41, as Portrait of Mrs. Henry White - née Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherford (sic).
- Portraits of Yesterday and Today: A Loan Exhibition Showing Distinguished Personalities of the New York Scene in the Golden Nineties, and a Representative Exhibition of Portraits by Contemporary Artists, Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, 4-6 May 1943, no. 42.
- De Gustibus...An Exhibition of American Paintings Illustrating a Century of Taste and Criticism, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 9 January - 20 February 1949, no. 26, as Mrs. Henry White.
- Progress of a Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 7 January - 18 March 1951, unpublished checklist.
- The Private World of John Singer Sargent, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Cleveland Museum of Art; Worcester Art Museum; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, 1964-1965, no. 24.
- Past and Present: 250 Years of American Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 15 April - 30 September 1966, unpublished checklist.
- John Singer Sargent and the Edwardian Age, Leeds Art Galleries, England; National Portrait Gallery, London; The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1979, no. 12.
- American Portraiture in the Grand Manner, 1720-1920, Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, 1981-1982, no. 52.
- John Singer Sargent at the Corcoran, Corcoran Museum of Art, Washington, 1983, unpublished checklist.
- Edith Wharton's World: Portraits of People and Places, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, 26 September 1997 - 25 January 1998, unnumbered checklist, as Margaret Rutherford White.
- The Forty-Fifth Biennial: The Corcoran Collects, 1907-1998, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 17 July - 29 September 1998, unnumbered catalogue.
- The Gilded Cage: Views of American Women, 1873-1921, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 13 July - 27 August 2002, unpublished checklist.
- The Impressionist Tradition in America, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 18 July 2003 - 18 October 2004, unpublished checklist.
- Figuratively Speaking: The Human Form in American Art, 1770-1950, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2004-2005, unpublished checklist.
- Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 2005-2007, checklist no. 51 (shown only in Washington).
- Americans in Paris 1860-1900, National Gallery, London; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2006-2007, no. 32.
- The American Evolution: A History through Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2008, unpublished checklist.
- John Singer Sargent in the Corcoran Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 11 July 2009 - 3 January 2010, unpublished checklist.
- American Journeys: Visions of Place, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 21 September 2013 - 28 September 2014, unpublished checklist.
- Ormond, Richard, and Elaine Kilmurray. John Singer Sargent: The Early Portraits. The Complete Paintings, Volume I. New Haven and London, 1998: no. 1883, repro.
- Simpson, Marc. "John Singer Sargent, "Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherfurd White (Mrs. Henry White)." In Corcoran Gallery of Art : American Paintings to 1945. Edited by Sarah Cash. Washington, 2011: 162-163, 172, 271-272, repro.