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John White Alexander papers, 1775-1968, bulk 1870-1915

Alexander, John White, 1856-1915

Painter, Portrait painter

The papers of John White Alexander in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2009.The bulk of the papers have been scanned and total 5,642 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Glass plate negatives in this collection were digitized in 2019 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Women's Committee.

Collection Information

Size: 11.9 Linear feet

Summary: The papers of the painter, muralist, and illustrator John White Alexander measure 11.9 linear feet and date from 1775 to 1968, with the bulk of materials dating from 1870 to 1915. Papers document Alexander's artistic career and many connections to figures in the art world through biographical documentation, correspondence (some illustrated), writings, 14 sketchbooks, additonal artwork and loose sketches, scrapbooks, photographs, awards and medals, artifacts, and other records. Also found is a souvenir engraving of a Mark Twain self-portrait.

Biographical/Historical Note

John White Alexander was born in 1856 in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. He was orphaned at age five and taken in by relatives of limited means. When Alexander left school and began working at a telegraph company, the company's vice-president, former civil war Colonel Edward Jay Allen, took an interest in his welfare. Allen became his legal guardian, brought him into the Allen household, and saw that he finished Pittsburgh High School. At eighteen, he moved to New York City and was hired by Harper and Brothers as an office boy in the art department. He was soon promoted to apprentice illustrator under staff artists such as Edwin A. Abbey and Charles Reinhart. During his time at Harpers, Alexander was sent out on assignment to illustrate events such as the Philadelphia Centennial celebration in 1876 and the Pittsburgh Railroad Strike in 1877, which erupted in violence.

Provenance

Papers were donated in 1978 and 1981 by Irina Reed, Alexander's granddaughter and in 2017 by Elizabeth Reed, Alexander's great grandaughter.

Funding

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Glass plate negatives in this collection were digitized in 2019 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Women's Committee.