John White Alexander

(American, 1856 - 1915)

John White Alexander, who was orphaned at an early age, worked hard to become an artist--first as a messenger in his native Allegheny, Pennsylvania, and then as an illustrator in New York City-- and ultimately became one of the most sought-after portraitists of America’s Gilded Age. By 1877 he had enough money to go to Europe, where he hoped to study in Paris. When he was not readily accepted into an atelier there, he entered the Royal Academy in Munich. Within a few months he joined a group of American students who painted with the Munich-trained American artist Frank Duveneck (1848-1919) at nearby Polling. Known as “Duveneck’s Boys,” several of the young artists, including Alexander, went with Duveneck to Venice, where the expatriate American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was then working. Whistler’s “art for art’s sake” approach to painting was a potent influence on Alexander’s evolving style. Alexander returned to New York in 1881 and worked once again as an illustrator, while also seeking portrait commissions. His painting style matured during the course of further European travel (notably to Spain during the 1880s), and the decade he spent in Paris following his marriage gave his portraiture confidence and sophistication. Alexander spent the rest of his life in the United States, where he painted murals as well as portraits. Honors included election to the National Academy of Design in New York, which he served as president from 1909 to 1913.