Studies of sentiment: John White Alexanders depictions of gilded age men and womenShow full item record
|Studies of sentiment: John White Alexanders depictions of gilded age men and women
|Smith, Ashton Nicole,author.
|Master of Arts
|The American painter John White Alexander is best known for his intimately cropped images of billowingly-dressed women lounging around an amorphous domestic sphere, caught in a state of emotion or thought. Alexander, when he began serially exploring this subject, stated that he wished to paint “a subject and not a simple portrait. . . . It is very simple--only one figure but in it I want to express a sentiment.” The painting Azalea completed in 1885 illustrates the mixture of subject and portrait and may be said to express a mood or feeling. Sentiment, critically and actively used in the nineteenth century in its noun form or its adjectival “sentimental,” can be defined as “an attitude, thought, or judgement prompted by feeling” or further a “refined feeling: delicate sensibility especially as expressed in a work of art.” The varying definitions never state a gendered bias, though late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century attitudes tended, as Alexander did, to conflate sentimentality with femininity.
Alexander’s extensive exploration of “sentiment” through solitary representations of women suggests the underlying belief that there existed something inherently feminine about sentimentality or sentimental about femininity. This paper begins with a general overview on the use of “sentiment” or “sentimental” in relation to late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century art, especially in criticism to illustrate the word’s gendered meanings and implications. By situating Alexander’s oeuvre, though with particular emphasis on his decorative pictures and his commissioned high-society portraiture, within the discourse of Gilded Age notions of sentiment, Alexander’s work stands as a surprisingly democratic, inclusive exploration of the term. While women overtly and often receive sentimental treatment, Alexander’s portraiture of men, a class societally polarized against “sentiment” or “sentimentality,” retain a sentiment/al, subjective nature imbued into their objective likeness.
|Thistlethwaite, Mark L.
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- Masters Theses