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

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Megan McShea
Scope and Contents
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 Information includes multiple essays related to Alexander, his family, and others in his circle. Also found is an extensive oral history of Alexander's wife Elizabeth conducted in 1928. Correspondence includes letters written by Alexander to his family from New York and Europe at the start of his career, and later letters from fellow artists, art world leaders, and portrait sitters of Alexander's. Significant correspondents include Charles Dana Gibson, Florence Levy, Frederick Remington, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James, John La Farge, Francis Davis Millet, and Andrew Carnegie. Correspondence includes some small sketches as enclosures and illustrated letters.
Certificates and records related to Alexander's career are found in Associations and Memberships, Legal and Financial Records, and Notes and Writings, which contain documentation of Alexander's paintings and exhibitions. Scattered documentation of Alexander's memberships in various arts association exists for the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy in Rome, the National Academy of Design, the Onteora Club in New York, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Germany, the Ministère de L'Instruction Publique et des Beaux-Arts, the Union Internationale des Beaux Arts et des Lettres, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Notes and Writings include speeches written by Alexander, short stories and essays written by his wife, and articles by various authors about Alexander. Extensive documentation of the planning and construction of the Alexander Memorial Studio by the MacDowell Club is found, along with other awards, medals, and memorial resolutions adopted by arts organizations after Alexander's death.
Artwork includes fourteen sketchbooks with sketches related to Alexander's commercial illustration and cartooning, murals, paintings, and travels. Dozens of loose drawings and sketches are also found, along with two volumes and several dozen loose reproductions of artwork, among which are found fine prints by named printmakers. Many sketches are also interspersed throughout the correspondence. Eight Scrapbooks contain mostly clippings, but also scattered letters, exhbition catalogs, announcements, invitations, and photographs related to Alexander's career between 1877 and 1915. Additional Exhibition Catalogs and later clippings, as well as clippings related to the career of his wife and other subjects, are found in Printed Materials.
Photographs include many portraits of Alexander taken by accomplished photographers such as Zaida Ben-Yusuf, Aimé Dupont, Curtis Bell, Elizabeth Buehrmann, and several signed Miss Huggins, who may have been Estelle Huntington Huggins, a New York painter and photographer. Portraits of others include Alexander's friends William Merritt Chase and Edward Austin Abbey. Also found are photographs of groups, juries, family, friends, and studios in New York, Paris, and New Jersey, and a handful of scenic photographs of Polling, Bavaria, where Alexander had an early studio. A large number of photographs of works of art are found, many with annotations. Among the photographs of murals are a small collection of snapshots of the Carnegie Institute murals in progress. Miscellaneous artifacts include a palette, several printing plates, and an inscribed souvenir engraving of a self-portrait caricature of Mark Twain.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Papers were donated in 1978 and 1981 by Irina Reed, Alexander's granddaughter and in 2017 by Elizabeth Reed, Alexander's great grandaughter.
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.
Processing Information
The papers were arranged and microfilmed upon receipt on reels 1727-1731, 1807, and 3483. The accessions were merged, re-processed, and fully described in this finding aid in 2007 by Megan McShea with funding from the Terra Foundation for American Art. Glass plate negatives were re-housed in 2015 with a grant from the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund.