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“Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherfurd White” by John Singer Sargent

"Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherfurd White" by John Singer Sargent

“Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherfurd White” by John Singer Sargent

“Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherfurd White” by John Singer Sargent depicts Mrs. White at age 29; her husband was the First Secretary of the American legation in Paris.

This painting exemplifies Sargent’s virtuosity in handling a gleaming array of fabrics, including satin, lace, and tulle. He shows Mrs. White holding a fan and opera glasses against an elegant chaise sofa and curtains’ background.

Margaret “Daisy” Stuyvesant Rutherfurd came from a prominent New York family, and in 1879, she married the American diplomat Henry White, from a wealthy and well-connected Maryland family.

She was an ambitious and hard-working woman who encouraged her husband to pursue a diplomacy career in Europe. Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherfurd White was called “Daisy” by her acquaintances, and she became a popular American socialite in Europe.

Throughout White’s diplomatic career, his prospects were helped by the social grace of his wife. As a couple, Henry and Margaret White had been popular with British intellectuals.

Novelist Edith Wharton recalled her 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.”

The relationships White formed with both British and American leaders were what made him an invaluable diplomat. White served as an unusually effective intermediary between the British and American governments because he was known and trusted by both sides.

During the years when White was active in the United Kingdom, both the British and the American governments wanted close relations with the other, so White could use his ability to mediate with great effect.

The author Henry James wrote from London in 1888:

“The happy American here, beyond all others, is Mrs. Henry White.”

When Sargent began this portrait in 1882, he was also worked on painting another American woman living in Paris, Virginie Amélie Gautreau, which title “Madame X.”

Daisy had two children with her husband, Henry White (1850 – 1927), who became a prominent U.S. diplomat during the 1890s and 1900s and one of the Treaty of Versailles’ signers.

Theodore Roosevelt, who was president during the peak of White’s career, described White as:

“the most useful man in the entire diplomatic service, during my Presidency and for many years before.”

The chief aide to Woodrow Wilson called White:

“the most accomplished diplomatist this country has ever produced.”

In 1899, Margaret White was struck down by degenerative nerve disease. She would recover only partially and spent much of her time away at resorts, conserving her strength. For the next 10 years, the Whites’ daughter Muriel would fill in as hostess during her mother’s absences. Daisy died in 1916.

Street in Venice

  • Painting:               Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherfurd White
  • Artist:                   John Singer Sargent
  • Year:                     1883
  • Medium:              Oil on panel
  • Dimensions:         Height: 87 in (220.9 cm); Width: 55 in (139.7 cm) 
  • Museum:              National Gallery of Art, DC

John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925) is considered one of the leading portrait painters and is known for his era’s luxury evocations.

He created over 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, and many sketches and drawings. He also traveled extensively across Europe, the Middle East, and the United States.

Many of John Singer Sargent portraits, which can be found in museums across the world, depict society’s leading lights and the opulence of their time.

Sargent was born in Florence to American parents and trained in Paris before moving to London, living most of his life in Europe.

His “Portrait of Madame X” created a scandal, which led to Sargent’s departure for England, where he continued a successful career as a portrait artist.

His commissioned works were consistent with portraiture’s grand manner, while his informal studies and landscape paintings displayed a familiarity with Impressionism.

In later life, Sargent expressed ambivalence about formal portrait work restrictions and devoted much of his energy to mural painting and working en Plein air.

Art historians generally ignored “society” artists such as Sargent until the late 20th century.

John Singer Sargent: A collection of paintings

John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent Female Portraits

A Virtual Tour of the National Gallery of Art



“You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.”
– John Singer Sargent


Photo Credit: John Singer Sargent [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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