Alexander Lawrie, son of a Scottish immigrant, started his artistic career by apprenticing as a wood engraver at the age of 16. By 1852 he had moved to Phildadelphia where he was most likely enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where several of his paintings were exhibited. In 1855 Lawrie and his friend William Trost Richards (an American landscape artist) sailed to Europe. After a brief time in Paris, Lawrie went to Düsseldorf Germany and began studying with Emanuel Leutze (an artist most famous nowadays for his painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware). After 22 months with Leutze, Lawrie went to Florence for further instruction and returned to the United States in 1857.
When the American Civil War broke out, Lawrie enlisted as private in the Seventeenth Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in 1861 and rose to the rank of Captain. As part of General Burnside's march from Sharpsburg, MD to Fredericksburg, VA, Lawire was exposed to six days and nights of rain which resulted in illness and a military discharge in 1863. Eventually he moved to New York City and opened a studio there. During the late 1860s he focused on painting landscapes in the Adirondacks and around the Hudson River. Eventually his interest turned from landscape to portraiture which he focused on almost exclusively after 1874. However, he never achieved great success as an artist.
At the age of 73, illnesses past and present began to take their toll. As he had served in the Civil War, he was entitled to enter the State Soldier's Home in Lafayette, Indiana. He continued to work at the home, painting portraits of American generals and heroes of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars until he died of pneumonia at the age of 89. He bequeathed this collection of 167 portraits to the State Soldier's home. The collection includes portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Generals Washington, Grant, Burnside, Sheridan, and Sherman. The collection continues to be held by the state of Indiana.
This carte-de-visite is from an album held in the American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library.
American Artists in Düsseldorf: 1840-1865. Framingham, MA: Danforth Musuem, 1982.
Dearinger, David B., ed. Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2004.
O'Brien, Peggy. Early Adirondack Paintings by Alexander Lawrie 1828-1917. Essex County, NY: Adirondack Museum, 1984.