Lady Before the Mirror. John White Alexander (American, 1856-1915). Oil on canvas. Odessa Museum.

Like other young artists of his generation, Alexander had advanced his training in Paris, there combining a fluid technique with a keen understanding of the asymmetric spatial principles of Japanese art. More than the book or the mirror, it is the back of the model’s dress, spread out in sinuous curves, as she bends to fix her hair, which forms the true subject of this painting.

Portrait of Mrs. John White Alexander (1902). John White Alexander (American, 1856-1915). Oil on canvas. LACMA.

It is an evocative figure study in which mood and atmosphere take precedence over frank likeness. The portrait was painted in a palette of muted pinks and moss green on a coarse, loosely woven, absorbent canvas to produce a soft, hazy effect. Alexander cast his wife in a somewhat ambiguous, shadowy outdoor setting with dramatic spotlighting on her face and right hand.

Repose (1895). John White Alexander (American, 1856-1915). Oil on canvas.

There are some similarities to the work, also titled Repose (1895), at the Met. Both are studies of female figures gracefully posed. In this work, the sitter looks away while reading her book. In the Met work, Alexander depicts a provocative facial expression. In both, there are supple curves reflecting the contemporary French taste for sensual images of women. 

Isabella and the Pot of Basil (1897). John White Alexander (American, 1856-1915). Oil on canvas. MFA, Boston.

From a John Keats poem of 1820. Isabella’s humbly born lover Lorenzo was murdered by her brothers. The distraught Isabella bathed Lorenzo’s head with her tears and hid it in a pot with sweet basil, a plant associated with lovers. The eerie light, the cold monochromatic palette, and the sensuous curves of Isabella’s gown depict the loving attention Isabella gives the pot, which she gently caresses.