Thursday

Alexander, J B - portrait of James Hogg

This miniature portrait is interesting as it illustrates the progression of how a particular pose of a sitter may be reused as the subject for a miniature. However, there is also a puzzle connected with it.

The miniature is housed in what appears to be a miniature case from the 19C. It seems to be made of what looks like 14c gold, with a hinged hanger at the top and a full window on the reverse which covers some dark fabric.

It is clearly signed inside "Miniature of James Hogg, Poet, by JB Alexander, 1911". Additionally, there is a printed label between the fabric and glass on the reverse, which reads the same, although without the date.

The puzzle associated with the miniature is that the only recorded artist with the name J B Alexander worked in the United States in Charleston in the period 1830-1840.

A miniature by this other J B Alexander is included in the American 1 Gallery of this collection and recent research has determined he was born in 1812, thus he is unlikely to be the artist for this miniature dated 1911. Therefore, although this miniature has been included in the American section of this collection, there is the possibility the miniature is actually by a previously unrecorded British artist.

It is also odd to have a printed label inside a miniature case, identifying both the artist and the sitter.

The label gives rise to speculation that this J B Alexander may have painted, for commercial reasons, a number of versions of the miniature to commemorate some anniversary or event connected to James Hogg. It is conceded the ability of the artist seems to be limited, which perhaps supports the concept of a miniature painted for commercial reasons.

Turning to the sitter. James Hogg (1770-1835) was a Scottish poet and author. He had little formal education, which makes the range and quality of his literary output all the more surprising. Born on a farm at Ettrick, he had ambitions to be a writer from an early age and came to believe that he might emulate Burns. He was still working as a shepherd when his first, unsuccessful, volume of poems appeared in 1801. The following year he met Scott who would champion him over many years.

Hogg's appearance on the literary scene was established by The Queen's Wake which came out in 1813. Many times reprinted, it contains his most quoted piece of verse, 'Kilmeny'. Thereafter his work ranged from the brilliant parodies of contemporary poets in The Poetic Mirror to the works in prose: The Brownie of Bodsbeck, The Three Perils of Man, and, most remarkable of all, The Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which introduced the theme of the evil doppelganger into Scottish literature. For much more about James Hogg, see James Hogg Society

In 1830 a large oil portrait of him was painted by Sir John Watson Gordon. It is shown here just for comparative reference and the original hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

It is evident from the example shown here, that the oil portrait was the source of a 19C engraving of James Hogg.

This print was engraved by George J Stodart in 1876. In turn it seems the miniature was copied from the engraving.

James Hogg is buried in Ettrick Churchyard, Ettrick, Scottish Borders.

Since writing the above, I am grateful for the following helpful comments received from the James Hogg Society.

"I'm sure you are right in thinking that it derives ultimately from the Watson Gordon oil-painting of around 1830. This was painted for the Edinburgh publisher Robert Cadell, but subsequently sold to the Blackwood firm and hung in their salon at 45 George Street in Edinburgh for many years until acquired by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street, Edinburgh.

The Watson Gordon portrait was engraved almost as soon as painted and an engraving published as a preface to the fourth volume of the 'Edinburgh Literary Journal'. A notice 'To Our Readers' in the advertising material to the issue for 26 June 1830 (p. 63) says the portrait was first published with 'the July part' of this weekly literary paper. Hogg himself requested extra copies, presumably to give away to his many visitors at Altrive in Yarrow. The portrait is also referred to in Lockhart's 'Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart.', 7 vols (Edinburgh, 1837-38), VII, 276 as a 'perfect' likeness. One way and another, it was probably the best-known portrait of Hogg in the nineteenth-century and an obvious choice for a later copyist.

I don't know anything about the artist, and the only Hogg associations I have with the year 1911 is that (if I remember rightly) Hogg's grandson Robert Gilkison and his wife were in Scotland around then." 1262

1 comment:

James T said...

I have a painting by this artist