The painting was one of several bought by C. L. Freer in 1899, but Whistler was loathe to part with it, and wrote to Freer,
'Nothing is to be said about price in this matter - until the Blue Girl takes her place to preside -
All this you will understand completely and feel with when we meet.
Meanwhile I think I may tell you without the least chance of being misunderstood, that I wish you to have a fine collection of Whistlers!! - perhaps The collection -
You see the Englishmen have all sold - "for 'tis their nature to," as Dr Watts beautifully puts it - whatever paintings of mine they possessed! ...
... The little Lady of Soho! I am glad you have chosen her.' 1
Whistler also instructed Christine Anderson (fl. 1898) at the Company of the Butterfly that the two exhibits bought by Freer were to be collected from the ISSPG but there was 'No question of price as I have told you.' 2 On 27 June 1900 Freer wrote that he had heard from William Stephen Marchant (1868-1925) that 'the beautiful portrait of the "Little Lady of Soho" ' would be sent soon, and offered to pay for it. 3 Whistler wrote to the sitter's mother that Edith, the sitter's sister, must locate the painting: 'A man is coming this morning from Goupil's for Miss Sophie's portrait, and I want Miss Edie to give it to him, for she knows exactly where it is.' 4
The painting was eventually sent to Freer through Goupil's and hung in Detroit by December 1900. Freer wrote:
'one week ago was the first opportunity I had to unpack and hang in your group the "Little Lady Sophie of Soho"
I found that the journey had fortunately, done her no harm and that she was as attractive as ever. Along with "The Balcony", "Bognor", "Portsmouth Harbour", (Nocturne) "La Cigale" and the delightful water colors and pastels, she hangs in serene triumph, a bit coquettish perhaps, but always beautiful - She has many admirers already and the number is sure to increase.' 5
It was not long before it was shipped back to France, exhibited briefly in Paris in 1901, and finally returned to Freer thereafter. Freer paid Whistler 800 guineas (£840) for the painting in May 1902. 6
Whistler was concerned over the selection and arrangement of his group of pictures at the ISSPG. He sent a drawing of the proposed layout to John Lavery (1856-1941). The sketch, Plan of a panel of pictures for the ISSPG [M.1582], shows the hanging scheme including Purple and Gold: Phryne the Superb! - Builder of Temples [YMSM 490], which was not eventually included, and Blue and Silver: Trouville [YMSM 066], Nocturne: Black and Gold - Rag Shop, Chelsea [YMSM 204], Rose and Brown: La Cigale [YMSM 495], and Rose and Gold: The Little Lady Sophie of Soho, which were included. 7
A second sketch, Paintings at the ISSPG [M.1583], included Whistler's full exhibit, as listed in the catalogue, Blue and Silver: Trouville [YMSM 066], Nocturne: Black and Gold - Rag Shop, Chelsea [YMSM 204], Rose and Gold: The Little Lady Sophie of Soho, Purple and Gold: Phryne the Superb! - Builder of Temples [YMSM 490], Violet and Rose: Carmen qui rit [YMSM 506], and Portrait of E. G. Kennedy (2) [YMSM 404].
The painting was reproduced in the exhibition catalogue and Whistler sent C. L. Freer a reproduction. He replied: 'The Little Lady Sophie is beautifully reproduced - and it must have been difficult ... I urge you to see that the prints of this little Lady, throughout the whole edition be, each one, as pure and silvery as the proof you send me!' 8 Whistler sent a copy of the photogravure to Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932), saying, 'I told Messrs. Ward to send you proof photogravure of "The Little Lady Sophie of Soho," and of the Trouville sea piece - They are very pretty and I thought you might wish to hang them up over there.' 9 No sooner was it bought and sent to Freer, and hung in Detroit in December 1900, than Whistler requested it for a proposed exhibition in Paris, in March 1901. 10 Indeed, this had already been discussed and agreed, as Freer replied: 'it was so agreed between us in London, last October, that the little "Lady Sophie" was to visit Paris in the spring - she, little Lady that she is will be glad to face the fair Parisiennes on their own ground.' 11 By July, 'The little Lady Sophie is holding her Court in all honour in Munich for the moment', Whistler told Freer. 12 It appears that Freer did not know in advance the portrait had gone to Munich, but he graciously approved:
'I was most happily surprised in walking through the exhibition at Munich, before the receipt of your letter, to find enthroned upon a special pedestal, in a perfect light, the Little Lady Sophie, who by her rare charm, was the saving grace of a conventional exhibition.' 13
'Rose et Or - Miladi Sophie de Soho' was returned from Munich and went immediately into the exhibition of the Société Internationale de Peinture et de Sculpture, at the Galerie Georges Petit. 14 Whistler sketched a possible arrangement of his exhibits in a drawing, Panel of four pictures [M.1703].
When it finally returned to America, Freer remained loyally involved in exhibiting Whistler's work properly and prominently, and when this portrait was not, he felt, adequately displayed in Philadelphia, he complained to Hargrave Morrison (b. 1817):
'If, as you say ... the Whistlers were the "most attractive feature of the exhibition", then they certainly were entitled to be hung in the place of honor. In point of fact, they were shown in a far inferior location, and one in which the most important picture of the five, the "Little Lady Sophie", could not be properly seen.' 15
By the terms of C. L. Freer's bequest to the Freer Gallery of Art, the painting cannot be lent to another venue.
Last updated: 21st November 2020 by Margaret