Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Fraser, Alexander (1827-1899)

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FRASER, ALEXANDER (1827–1899), landscape painter, son of Alexander George Fraser and his wife Janet W. Moir, was born at Woodcockdale, near Linlithgow, on 3 Nov. 1827. His father, a gentleman of private means, was an amateur of ability, and from him Fraser received some instruction in art before he entered the Trustees' Academy, Edinburgh, at the age of seventeen. But he learned more by working from nature and copying in the gallery and from his fellow-students than from masters. Among these early friends one of the closest was Sir William Fettes Douglas [q.v. Suppl.], with whom he made many sketching excursions. An earnest student of nature, and from very early in his career a remarkably able craftsman, his work soon attracted attention; in 1858 he was elected associate, and four years later full member, of the Royal Scottish Academy. Although he spent the winters of ten years (1847-57) in London, and for several seasons painted in Wales and in Surrey, where he did some of his most brilliant work, he lived and painted for the most part in Scotland. Loch Lomondside, Argyllshire, where he had spent part of his youth, and the Hamilton district, where in Cadzow forest he found material peculiarly suited to his taste, were favourite sketching grounds; but from 1885, after which he was partially disabled by a severe rheumatic affection, his subjects were taken principally from the neighbourhood of Edinburgh. On 24 May 1899 he died at Musselburgh, leaving a widow (Jean, daughter of Thomas Duncan [q. v.]), whom he married in 1859, a son, and a daughter.

Fraser's early work is remarkable for the wealth and truth of its detail, and that of his maturity combines delicacy of finish in essential parts with breadth of conception and great power of handling, while, among Scottish painters, he was almost the first to render the purity and intensity of local colour. His technical method was very direct and sound; he drew with spirit and incisiveness, and his colour is usually full, varied, and harmonious. Compared with the landscape of his contemporaries, his is remarkable for freedom from convention, particularly in colour and design. Almost exclusively a landscape painter, he delighted in woodland and river scenery; but he also painted a number of very fine interiors and still-life studies, and usually introduced figure incident into his landscapes. The work produced during the last fifteen years of his life is, owing to the physical weakness referred to, quite unrepresentative of his talent. Scottish collectors esteem Fraser's art highly, and even before his death his pictures had advanced greatly in monetary value. But, except for the series in the Glasgow Galleries (Teacher Bequest), he is very inadequately represented in public collections.

Fraser wrote occasionally on art, contributing several papers to the 'Portfolio,' and prefacing a selection of photographs from the works of Horatio MacCulloch [q. v.] with a short life and a critical estimate.

A portrait of Fraser, painted in 1860 by Sir W. Fettes Douglas, belongs to the Scottish Academy; an interesting drawing of him as a young man, by T. Fairbairn, is in private hands; and a photograph of him at a later date is reproduced in the 'Scots Pictorial,' June 1899.

[Private information; The Scotsman, 25 May 1899; Scots Pictorial, January 1898; Armstrong's Scottish Painters, 1888; K.S.A. Report, 1899; catalogues of galleries and exhibitions.]

J. L. C.