#FridayPainting: John White Alexander “Alethea”

Why have I not heard of John White Alexander?

John White Alexander was an American portrait, figure, and decorative painter and illustrator. His painting are housed in private collections and museums and galleries around the world: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Art Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the list goes on and on…

Paris loved and welcomed John White Alexander. The Paris Salon of 1893, his first exhibition, was a remarkable success which opened the door to his immediate election to the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts. John and his wife, Elisabeth, became prominent members of the social and literary scene of the 1890s. Their close friends included among many, Henry James, Claude Debussy, John Singer Sargent, Isabella Steward Gardner, and Oscar Wilde.

John White Alexander painted Walt Whitman, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Burroughs, Jeremiah Milbank,and other notable men, but he is best known for his depictions of idealized women––especially those executed in Paris during the 1890s, when he developed his mature style. This is where the painting, “Alethea” came into being.

Who is Alethea? What I have gleaned is that the painting bears a remarkable resemblance to John’s wife, Elisabeth.

So many stories held in the folds and paint brushes of history.

10 Replies to “#FridayPainting: John White Alexander “Alethea””

    1. Can you imagine what it would have been like to being at a dinner party at the Alexander’s home in Paris! Elisabeth looks like a very strong woman, who loves to read.

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  1. I commented elsewhere, but I want to add here that I enjoyed this photo that you posted–and also on my calendar. The dress is amazing, so full and is obviously made of exquisite taffeta. I had not heard of this artist so I am glad that you included some history, not only of him, but of some of his contemporaries. I appreciate that he painted women, and as was mentioned, this painting could have been of his wife. It would be good if we could see this painting and others that were created in that time frame! !

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    1. I checked out Alexander’s other paintings of women, which always featured them clothed in the beautiful dresses and luxurious materials. It looked like he enjoyed painting the folds of exquisite and glamorous dresses more than anything else. I can almost hear the rustle of the taffeta.

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  2. I may have said this before, so forgive me if I am repeating myself. But Mum and I once went to an exhibition in London called Fabric In Art (maybe 20+ years ago now yikes!). We had high hopes of a magnificent feast of paintings showcasing the artistic depiction of fabric in various ways. But sadly, it was a big let down. Ever since then we cannot help but home in on paintings that would have been perfect alternatives, a kind of virtual and ever-growing exhibition. I absolutely love the bold strokes in this work – how wonderful it would be to wear such a sumptuous gown. Thank you for introducing me to a new-to-me artist, and thank you for adding to our virtual fabric painting collection! X

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    1. Liz – I had never heard of John White Alexander before and yet he was widely accepted within the artist community in his time. He was very successful and admired. And yet, Vincent Van Gogh, who died in 1890, just when the Alexanders moved to Paris, is a household world was always on the sidelines. Is it timing? The personalities involved? The mysteries of art are ever present! Oh yes – the fabric in Alexander’s paintings are exquisite. I can feel the satin just be looking at the paintings, and hear the swish of material as it floats in the air. Thank you so much for your visit and comments! Hugs!

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