Edith Wharton

image for Edith Wharton
Exhibition Label
Before embarking on her celebrated writing career, Edith Newbold Jones Wharton led a privileged life as a member of New York society. Edward Harrison May, a British-born artist working in Paris, painted her portrait during an extensive family sojourn in Europe. Wharton, who would become famous for her critical depictions of the New York upper class, as in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Age of Innocence, was strongly influenced by these European trips of her youth. As an adult she chose to spend much of her life abroad, forming friendships with other American expatriates, such as Henry James. Despite Wharton's cheerful demeanor in this portrait, she would later chronicle the frustrations of her childhood. Yet it was during this time that she came to enjoy "making up," occupying the fictional worlds she would write about as an adult.
The sitter’s parents; the sitter; bequest to her niece Mrs. Beatrix Farrand, Bar Harbor Maine; sitter’s godson Colin Clark, England, [son of Kenneth Clark];(Zeitlin & Ver Brugge, Los Angeles); purchased 1982 NPG
Letter from Jacob Zeitlin to Robert G. Stewart, 12 July 1982. Whatron stipulated in her will [1937] that her niece give the portrait tot Kenneth Clark’s son, her godson Colin. A photograph at Yale University, Beinecke Library, documents the portrait in her parents’ house in Newport, Rhode Island. See also correspondence with Erica Donnis, Curator of Collections, The Mount, Lenox, Mass. NPG curatorial file.
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; This portrait was adopted by members of the National Portrait Gallery Commission in honor of Dan Okrent, chairman, 2004–8.
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National Portrait Gallery Collection
American Origins
On View
NPG, East Gallery 131
Object number
Edward Harrison May, 1824 - 1887
Edith Newbold Jones Wharton, 24 Jan 1862 - 11 Aug 1937
Nature & Environment\Plant\Flower
Edith Newbold Jones Wharton: Female
Edith Newbold Jones Wharton: Humanities and Social Sciences\Historian
Edith Newbold Jones Wharton: Literature\Writer\Novelist
Edith Newbold Jones Wharton: Pulitzer Prize
Edith Newbold Jones Wharton: Legion of Honor
Oil on canvas
Stretcher: 73 x 60.3 x 3.8cm (28 3/4 x 23 3/4 x 1 1/2")
Frame: 89.5 x 71.1 x 7.6cm (35 1/4 x 28 x 3")
National Portrait Gallery