John White Alexander

Silhouette of a Young Girl

  • 14 1/2 x 10 3/4 inches (36.8 x 27.3 cm)
  • Charcoal
  • Signed lower left: J.W. Alexander

Why We Love It

Alexander’s portraits of beautifully posed women are the hallmarks of his artistic career. In these works he combined his strong interest in Aestheticism, as practiced by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, with his own unique artistic style. The air of mystery that often characterizes his work is matched by his paintings’ sheer beauty.

The Value

This work on paper is a wonderful opportunity to own a quintessential work by Alexander at a much more affordable price. The three-quarter view of the sitter captures the intrigue of the artist’s best work. And the technical proficiency of his draftsmanship is truly a marvel.

Artist Background

1856: Born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania; 1875: Moved to New York and began working in the Art Department of Harper Brothers as a political cartoonist and illustrator; 1877: Travelled to Europe to study painting at the Munich Royal Academy; 1878: Joined Duveneck and his students in Polling, Upper Bavaria; 1879-81: Travelled with the “Duveneck Boys” to Venice and Florence where he met James Whistler; 1881: Returned to America and settled in New York; 1887: Married the illustrator Elizabeth Alexander; 1890: Travelled to Paris where he lived for the next ten years and became a major proponent of the Art Nouveau movement; 1894: Voted a member of the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts; 1895: Received mural commission to paint “Evolution of the Book” for the Library of Congress; 1901: Elected a Knight of the Legion of Honor by the French government. Moved back to New York; 1905: Received mural commission from the Carnegie Institute to paint the “Apotheosis of Pittsburgh”; 1909: Elected President of the National Academy of Design; 1915: Died in New York.

John White Alexander’s graceful depictions of beautiful women earned him critical acclaim both in Europe and America. He began his career as an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly, but eventually decamped for Europe with Frank Duveneck and William Merritt Chase. Eventually he moved to Paris with his wife and stayed there for 10 years. He became a leading proponent of Art Nouveau, as witnessed in his paintings of elongated women artfully posed in mysterious backgrounds.

Silhouette of a Young Girl demonstrates Alexander’s expert draftsmanship. The drawing itself is simple in that it doesn’t get mired in a wealth of detail, yet it is also sophisticated in Alexander’s use of an elegant, refined line. That the sitter is turned in three-quarter view away from the viewer adds a sense of mystery to the work, as does the dark background. As with Alexander’s other depictions of women, Silhouette of a Young Girl highlights his ability to create works that have an almost decorative quality in their rhythm and beauty yet don’t display sentimentality.