John White Alexander
The Blue Bowl
John White Alexander, American, The Blue Bowl, 1898, Oil on canvas; 121.9 x 90.8 cm (48 x 35 13/16 inches), Jesse Metcalf Fund 04.141.1
John White Alexander launched his career as an illustrator and political cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly, but by 1904, when The Blue Bowl appeared at RISD’s Autumn Exhibition, he had achieved international stature as a painter. Like other young artists of his generation, he 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 Delft bowl of the title, it is the back of the model’s dress, spread out as she bends to observe a fallen bloom, which forms the true subject of this painting. Sinuous curves and a floral-patterned surface represent the height of Art Nouveau costume, pictorial design, and compositional daring at the turn of the century.