Skip to main content

John W. Alexander to Walt Whitman, 17 April 1891

 loc_jm.00135.jpg Mr. Walt Whitman.

It gives me great pleasure to inform you that the portrait & painting1 of you a few years ago has been purchased by one of your admirers and presented to the Met. Museum of Art2 of New York—where I hope it will be seen by many thousands of people and for many years to come. I am delighted to have been the means of giving to future generations a portrait of you that is certainly one of my best works. I may tell  loc_jm.00136.jpg you also that it has been engraved and is to be published in Harpers Magazine.3

Hoping you are in good health and with best of good wishes.

Very truly yours John W. Alexander

John White Alexander (1856–1915) was an American painter and illustrator, well known for his portraits of famous Americans including Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Burroughs, as well as Whitman, whose portrait he worked on from 1886 to 1889.


  • 1. For three days beginning on Monday, February 22, 1886, Whitman sat for a portrait by Alexander. The naturalist John Burroughs termed the resulting portrait "a Bostonese Whitman—an emasculated Whitman—failing to show his power and ruggedness" (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 261). Whitman himself was not impressed (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, May 10, 1888 and Friday, June 8, 1888). [back]
  • 2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art ("the Met") was established in 1870 in New York City. Today, the museum's permanent collections are home to more than two million works, making it the largest art museum in the Western Hempisphere. [back]
  • 3. Harper's Monthly Magazine (sometimes Harper's New Monthly Magazine or simply Harper's) was established in 1850 by Henry J. Raymond and Fletcher Harper. The magazine published several of Whitman's poems, including "Song of the Redwood-Tree" and "Prayer of Columbus." In 1857, Fletcher Harper founded Harper's Weekly (subtitled "A Journal of Civilization"), which gained its fame for its coverage of the Civil War and its publication of cartoonist Thomas Nast's (1840–1902) work. For Whitman's relationship with these two publications, see Susan Belasco's "Harper's Monthly Magazine" and "Harper's Weekly Magazine." [back]
Back to top