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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755

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Francis Alexander, American, 1800-1880

Daniel Webster (Black Dan) (1782-1852), Class of 1801
Oil on canvas
Gift of Dr. George C. Shattuck, Class of 1803; P.836.3


A graduate of Dartmouth in 1801, Daniel Webster (1782-1852) was adopted as the College’s “second founder” when in 1818 he eloquently and successfully defended the College’s original charter in the United States Supreme Court, arguing against those who wished to have the private institution restructured as a state university. Webster’s renowned persuasive oratory was recognized during his student days at Dartmouth and later given full expression through his career as a lawyer and statesman. In what is by far the most theatrical and penetrating of the countless surviving portraits of Webster, Alexander sets the swarthy orator, known as “Black Dan,” against an energized, fiery sky. Via a low vantage point he accentuates Webster’s immense forehead, disheveled hair, and fervent gaze, suggesting at once the statesman’s electrifying presence and celebrated powers of reason. The popularity of phrenology during this era makes it almost certain that viewers would have found a direct correlation between the size and shape of Webster’s famously large head and his prodigious intellectual capabilities. Francis Alexander studied briefly at the Academy of Fine Arts, New York, and received encouragement from Gilbert Stuart, probably around 1825. About 1827 he settled in Boston, where he became one of the city’s leading portraitists. Alexander acquired his dramatic mode—which went beyond even Stuart’s romanticism—during an extended trip to Italy from 1831 through 1833. In 1853, Alexander returned with his family to Florence, Italy, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Last Updated: 5/13/09