John White Alexander 1856-1915

Born Allegheny City, Pennsylvania


Ben-Yusuf photographed John White Alexander shortly after his return from Paris in 1901, in what was arguably the period of the painter’s greatest creative and critical triumph. After eleven years abroad, he arrived in New York trailing honors and awards, culminating with the gold medal at the 1900 Paris Exposition. Hoping to capitalize on this success, he resettled in New York, yet found that the city to which he had returned was not as harmonious as he had expected. Increasingly the terms “decorative” and “beaux arts” – long associated with his portraits – were being used derisively, and soon critics were dwelling on his shortcomings. Alexander marked a transition in modern American painting. His portraits of women, in particular, show a new appreciation of line and abstract form, but his allegiance to traditional modes of expression never allowed him to push beyond customary limits.

Platinum print, 1901
John White Alexander Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution