John Alexander

Portrait of an Old Lady, possibly Helen Taylor, Mrs William Duff of Braco (1668/9 - 1780) (1736)

About this artwork

The date 1736 inscribed on the reverse of the lining canvas places this portrait firmly within the context of Alexander’s later career in Scotland following his return to Britain from Italy in 1720. His aristocratic patronage remained concentrated in the north-east of Scotland, requiring him to operate from his Edinburgh studio as a travelling portrait painter throughout the 1720s and the 1730s. By 1933, when this painting was auctioned in Aberdeen, the precise identity of Alexander’s elderly sitter and the early history of her portrait had been lost. The provisional re-identification of the sitter as Helen Taylor, also known as Lady Braco, is supported by comparison with a portrait of her in old age painted by William Mosman in 1738.

  • title: Portrait of an Old Lady, possibly Helen Taylor, Mrs William Duff of Braco (1668/9 - 1780)
  • accession number: NG 1798
  • artist: John AlexanderScottish (1686 - about 1766)
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Painting
  • medium: Oil on canvas
  • date created: 1736
  • measurements: 76.20 x 63.50 cm (framed: 106.20 x 94.60 x 8.50 cm)
  • credit line: Purchased 1934
  • photographer: Antonia Reeve

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.