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biography of John White ALEXANDER (1856-1915)

Birth place: Allegheny, PA

Death place: NYC

Addresses: NYC (1873-76); Europe (1877-81); NYC (1881-89); Paris (1889-1901); NYC (1901-on)

Profession: Portrait and mural painter

Studied: Munich Royal Acad., 1877 (three months, received a medal for drawing)

Exhibited: NAD, 1882-86, 1902-1915; Paris, Salon du Champ-de-Mars, 1893; AIC; SNBA, 1893-1899; in 1901 he was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor; PAFA, 1897 (gold), 1899 (prize); Paris Expo, 1900 (gold); Pan-Am. Expo, Buffalo, 1901 (gold); Soc. Am. Ar. N.Y., 1901 (prize); Soc. Washington Ar., 1903 (prize); Boston AC, 1903, 1904, 1906; St. Louis Expo, 1904 (gold); Corcoran Gal., 1907-14; CI, 1911 (med); Brooklyn AA, 1912; Newport AM, 1912; P.-P. Expo, San Fran., 1915 (med); National Collection (NMAA)1976

Member: ANA, 1901; NAD, 1902 (pres., 1909-15); Sch. Art Lg. (since founding in 1911); Nat. Inst. A. & L.; Mural Painters; MacDowell Cl. (pres.); NY Architectural Lg., 1901; AAAL; Portrait Painters; SI; Am. Inst. Arch.; Am Fed. Arts; Sociéte Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1894; Intl. Soc. Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers, London; Royal Soc. of Brit. Ar.; Munich Secession; Vienna Secession; Am. FA Soc. (trustee); NYPL (trustee); MMA (trustee).

Work: MMA; NGA; BMFA; NMAA; RISD; PAFA; AIC; Cincinnati Mus.; Carnegie Inst.; St. Louis AM.; Harvard Univ.; Princeton Univ.; Columbia Univ.; Wheaton College, Norton, MA; Radcliffe College; Mt. Holyoke College; Bowdoin College; Minneapolis IA; Corcoran Gal.; MusÈe Luxembourg, Paris; Wilstach Gal., Phila.; Butler Inst. of American Art, Youngstown, OH. Murals: LOC ("Evolution of the Book" murals begun 1895); Carnegie Inst. (partly installed by Nov. 1908 but not completed); Capitol Bldg., Harrisburg, PA (not completed)

Comments: The leading American master of the art nouveau style. From 1873-76, he was working in NYC as an illustrator for Harper"s Weekly when senior illustrators Edwin A. Abbey and Charles S. Reinhart suggested that he study in Munich. In 1877, he joined a small group of Americans in the little Bavarian village of Polling, painting in company with Frank Duveneck, J. Frank Currier, Joseph De Camp, and others. Later that year he went to Venice, where he met Whistler (Alexander's charcoal portrait of Whister is at the MMA) and Henry James; and later to Florence, returning to New York in 1881. From 1889-1901, he lived in Paris, associated with the Symbolist artists and writers, and painted the portraits of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman. During the 1890s his mature style emerged in the figural pieces for which he is best known ó usually a single female figure dressed in a dramatic, elaborate gown and posed against a contrasting background (Repose," MMA). His reputation was firm by 1895 when he was commissioned to paint a series of murals for the Library of Congress. In 1905 he was awarded a commission to paint 48 murals for the Carnegie Institute and was to be paid $175,000 ó the highest amount ever paid to a muralist up to that date. Part of the "Apotheosis of Pittsburgh" mural was installed by Nov., 1905, but Alexander died before the project could be completed. Alexander and his wife, Elizabeth Alexander (see entry), also designed costumes and scenery for the theater.

Sources: Mary Ann Goley, John White Alexander (1856-1915) (exh. brochure, NMAA, 1976); Graham Gallery, John White Alexander, 1856-1915, Fin-de-Siècle American (exh. brochure, with essay by Sandra Leff, NYC: Graham, 1980); Chew, ed., Southwestern Pennsylvania Painters, 11; Fink, American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons, 315. Note: John White Alexander's papers are in the Archives of American Art."


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