- Historic Sites
Master Of Sensuos Line
John White Alexander began his career as an office boy at Harper’s Weekly and rose to be a leading painter of his generation, especially of its women
October/november 1985 | Volume 36, Issue 6
Although at first he was too ill to work, Alexander quickly felt at home among his Parisian colleagues: “Here all the painters meet me with open arms and do anything they can to make it pleasant for us … and what is very flattering, I find they know all that I have been doing for years.”
During his second summer abroad Alexander began painting again, and the following spring he submitted three figure studies to the Salon du Champ de Mars, an annual exhibition organized to provide an alternative to the official, more conservative Salon. His three paintings were hung together in first place—the sensation of the exhibition. During the next nine years the artist developed his distinctive style, painting complex studies of women arranging flowers, playing musical instruments, or reading, their faces handled sketchily or averted altogether. They were not portraits, but he used women and their flowing dresses as vehicles for his formal concerns: the expression of mood and emotion with color and line.
In Paris he said, “All the painters here meet me with open arms and know all I have been doing for years.”
In 1901 the Alexanders returned to the United States to give their son an American education and to do what they could to promote the appreciation of art in this country— an interest that led to the presidency of the National Academy and several mural commissions.
Alexander was fifty-seven when the 1913 Armory show gave the public its first glimpse of the styles that eventually would supplant his own. He seemed unperturbed that he was no longer in the vanguard. “In view of past experience,” he wrote a year before he died, “it seems quite possible that some of us may live to see the day when the much discussed Nude Descending a Staircase may come to be regarded by those who really keep up to date as too commonplace for serious artistic consideration.”