JOHN WHITE ALEXANDER
John White Alexander (1856-1915) was born in Allegheny City, a Pennsylvania municipality subsequently absorbed by Pittsburgh. Orphaned in infancy, he was raised by his grandparents. Alexander left school at the age of twelve to work as a telegraph boy in Pittsburgh. His evident talent attracted the support of one of his employers, who subsequently was appointed his guardian upon the death of his grandparents. At the age of eighteen, he joined the office of Harper’s Weekly in New York, where he was promoted to apprentice illustrator under staff artists such as Edwin Abbey.
In 1877 Alexander travelled to Europe to begin formal artistic training, enrolling first in the Royal Art Academy of Munich and then travelling on to Polling in Bavaria. In Polling, Alexander met Frank Duveneck, with whom he travelled to Venice, where the young artist had the good fortune to encounter James Abbott McNeill Whistler, an acquaintance that developed into a warm and lifelong friendship. In 1881 Alexander returned to New York, and quickly achieved notable success as a portraitist, numbering among his sitters Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Burroughs, Walt Whitman, Henry Marquand and Robert Alan Mowbray Stevenson.
Upon his return to New York, Alexander embraced a new concern for light and colour in his work, following the influence of Impressionism which was becoming very popular in the Unites States during this period. Upon moving to Paris in 1891 Alexander began exhibiting widely, gaining prominence as an exponent of the current Art Noveau trend. Alexander achieved international success with his paintings of female figures gracefully posed in elegant interiors. His portraits reflected the contemporary French taste for sensual images of women as well as the undulating linear rhythms of Art Nouveau.
In 1893 his paintings were exhibited in the Paris Salon for the first time and subsequently he was elected to the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts. In 1901 he was named Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and in 1902 became a member of the National Academy of Design. He was also elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was awarded gold medals at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900 and the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904.
Alexander’s work is housed in numerous prestigious museums and institutes across the United States and in Europe, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Art Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Butler Institute, and the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. Notable commissions include Apotheosis of Pittsburgh, a cycle of murals for the entrance hall of the Art Museum of the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburg, completed from 1905 to 1907.