About this artwork

This is thought to be a highly worked compositional sketch for the most challenging work of Alexander’s entire career, a huge staircase ceiling decoration in oils on canvas commissioned for Gordon Castle near Fochabers by Alexander Gordon, 5th Marquess of Huntly and 2nd Duke of Gordon. Supposedly measuring twenty-two by twenty feet, the finished ceiling has long since disappeared, possibly in the 1760s or the 1770s during extensive alterations to the Castle. Painted between 1720 and 1725, it was the most ambitious Baroque ceiling in Scotland, for which the artist was paid eighty pounds.

John Alexander

John Alexander

John Alexander, son of an Aberdeen doctor, was the great-grandson of George Jamesone, the most famous Scottish painter of the seventeenth century. After some time in London, Alexander travelled to Italy in 1711 where he studied under Giuseppe Chiari and received commissions from the Stuart court in exile. When he returned to Scotland in 1720 he worked for the Duke of Gordon, a Catholic and a staunch Jacobite, and produced his most ambitious work, a ceiling painting for Gordon Castle. Most of his clients were from the north-east of Scotland and many were Jacobites. He took up arms for Prince Charles in the 1745 Rising and became a fugitive after Culloden but was back in Edinburgh working openly by 1748.