Good morning, Mr. Cartwright,
I own two large oil portraits which were given to my father many years ago, and are two of my ancestors, circa 1800. They show a couple, probably from the greater Boston area. The story I was told as a child was that they may have been done by an artist whose last name was Alexander. I'd appreciate your input.
(1) Cosmo Alexander
(2) Francis Alexander
Both bios below.
I would suggest to you that although Cosmo is the more famous of the two and one of his paintings sold at Sotheby's for $75,000, that he is too early for your ancestors' portraits. Although you say circa 1800, I believe this painting (AllExperts only shows me the portrait of the husband,) has a style more sophisticated (depth, light, palette) than the naive portraits done at that time. The dress of the subject looks mid-century as well. (Think: does this period dress and portrait look more like John Adams or Thomas Jefferson, or like Ralph Waldo Emerson?)
The likelier portraitist is Francis Alexander. His paintings have sold at auction for $500 - $1,500 with one exceptional portrait going for $2,250 in 2005 at Northeast Auctions in Portsmith NH. If you were ever interested in selling your portraits, I would urge to contact Ron Bourgeault at that auction house. Or feel free to contact me.
Looks to be in great shape. It's an extremely compelling portrait, the cross must indicate that he held an important role in his church, perhaps deacon? Love it.
Best of luck,
Cartwright Fine Art
(1) COSMO ALEXANDER
A Scottish portraitist, Cosmo Alexander was in the American colonies between 1766 and 1772. He is primarily remembered as the teacher of Gilbert Stuart, who became his assistant in Newport, Rhode Island in 1769 and who accompanied him to Edinburgh in 1771. Shortly after, Cosmo died and left Stuart in the care of his brother-in-law and artists Sir George Chalmers.
Cosmo Alexander was the son of John Alexander, a noted Scottish portrait painter, and Cosmo had a distinguished reputation as a painter before coming to America.
Although Alexander referred to himself as a history painter, only his portraits survive, and about 25 have been linked to his name. His style would be closest to Classical Realism as taught by John Singleton Copley.
By 1749, he was in Rome, and is documented in Italy from 1745 to 1751. By 1754, he had returned to Scotland from where he traveled to Holland and joined the Hague Painters Guild in 1763. Then he went to London in 1766, and then to America after apparently losing his property due to personal debt and hoping to earn enough money in America to recover financially. With emphasis upon stiffness of pose and solid form, he painted many portraits in the Colonies, traveling quite a bit including Philadelphia in 1766; New York City in 1767; Philadelphia return in 1768; Burlington (New Jersey), Philadelphia, and Boston in 1769; Newport (Rhode Island ) in 1769-70 .
In Burlington, New Jersey, he was a guest at the Governor's Mansion and received many commissions with help from the governor. He also met the young Gilbert Stuart, as stated above, and at the suggestion of a physician, took Stuart, age 14, as an apprentice. Before leaving for Edinburgh, they traveled together to Philadelphia in 1770-71 and then went south, visiting Williamsburg, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina.
(2) FRANCIS ALEXANDER
A leading New England portrait painter of the early 19th century especially noted for female portraits, Francis Alexander was born in Killingly, Connecticut. A highlight of his career was in 1842 when Charles Dickens consented to sit for him. Alexander had been so persistent with Dickens that the term "to be Alexander" came into the language.
He first painted in watercolor without instruction, and then studied art in New York City with Alexander Robertson. He was active in his home town of Killingly and in Providence, Rhode Island in the early 1820s and then moved to Boston where portraitist Gilbert Stuart befriended him and guided his art training. From 1831 to 1833, he was in Italy, and then lived in Boston where during the 1830s and 40s, he gained a distinguished reputation for portraiture. He briefly visited Washington DC, and then returned to Italy in 1853 to settle in Florence for the remainder of his life, visiting the U.S. only once, from 1868 to 1869. In Italy, he became a close friend of sculptor Hiram Powers, leader of the American art colony. Francis Alexander did not do much painting in Italy but spent much time instructing his daughter, Francesca Alexander. His wife was also an artist, Lucia Gray Swett Alexander.
His portrait style was modelled after Stuart but is more sentimental, perhaps influenced by Boston's other leading portrait painter, Washington Allston.
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art