Portrait of Alexander
by Sarah Perkins, 1795
What doesportrait mean?
What is the setting of this portrait?
Alexander's parents probably hired an artist to paint this portrait.
Why do you think they wanted a portrait of their son?
Why do you think the artist or Alexander's parents chose this
particular setting for the portrait?
In the early days of
the American Republic, many children didn't live to adulthood because
medical care wasn't very good. Therefore, wealthy and middle-class
parents sometimes commissioned
artists to paint their children's portraits
so they would have a permanent memory of their kids no matter what
happened to them. Remember, this is about 100 years before the camera
Alexander's parents were probably rich
business people or land owners. That might be why the artist chose
The fields behind him probably belonged to the Dix family. Notice how
Alexander's suit is almost the same shade of green as the trees and
fields, making him blend into the background. This might be the
artist's way of telling us that Alexander and his family felt proud
to be part of the American landscape.
would Alexander look in a different setting? Click on the
settings below, and think about how the mood of a portrait changes
with the setting:
This portrait of Alexander was
painted when he was probably about 10 years old. He looks much older,
though, because at this time, children were often thought of as
"mini-adults." Their parents were very strict, and their free time
was filled with religious and educational activities. After the age
of about seven, children weren't allowed to play anymore, and they
had to dress like adults! The idea of childhood as a special time,
separate from grown-up problems and interests, did not develop until
Would you rather be a kid now
or back then? Tell us your