Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ashton Alexander (1772-1855)

When I started photographing the portraits, I was not at all methodical about it, rather, I’d have my camera with me, see someone I’d not photographed before and then take a picture. I knew that if I had a picture in color, it was a painting. Engravings and black and white images came from either our 1899 Annals of Maryland Medicine, or the 100th anniversary of our library book.

I was in one of the other buildings on our “campus” and saw a painting of Ashton Alexander, our first secretary, an early treasurer and our last surviving member. Of course, I took a picture of the painting. When I got back to my office, I realized that I already had a color image of Alexander. Hmmmm… how was that possible?

It turns out that we have an original painting, which is in our Physician Health Program building,  Alexanderand a copy of the painting, which is in our Founders Hall. image

I went back and checked the 2002 Sotheby’s appraisal, and sure enough, only one copy of the painting was listed. And it was by Philip Tilyard, a well-known painter in Baltimore in the early 1800’s. imagePhilip Tilyard studied with his father, an English painter who had immigrated to America. After his father died, Tilyard worked with another artisan for a year and then with his brother as a sign and ornament painter. In 1814, the Baltimore City Directory listed his occupation as “portraitist.” For a short time, Tilyard went into the dry goods business, but was unsuccessful and returned to making signs to support himself. Tilyard eventually built back his reputation as a portrait painter for wealthy Baltimore citizens. But this success did not last long, and he died poor from what his obituary described as a “lingering illness.”

Back to Ashton Alexander…

Ashton Alexander was born near Arlington, VA in 1772, where his family owned large tracts of land, and the town of Alexandria was named for them. He was privately educated and then studied medicine as a student of Dr. Philip Thomas, of Frederick, MD and then attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his degree in 1795. He first settled in North Carolina and then came to Baltimore in 1796.

He was a founder of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland and its first secretary (1799-1801); then he was treasurer (1801-1803) and the last surviving charter member.

Additionally, he was Commissioner of Health in Baltimore from 1804-05 and again in 1812; Attending Physician, Baltimore General Dispensary, 1801-03; Consulting Physician, Baltimore Hospital, 1812; President District Medical and Chirurgical Society, 1819-20; Provost, University of Maryland, 1837-50.

He was married, first to Catherine Thomas, a daughter of Dr. Philip Thomas, and fathered eight children, only three of whom survived to adulthood, and all of whom died before he did. In his later years, he was married to Miss Sarah Roger Merryman.

Dr. Alexander is described as being “a self-possessed and courteous man, neat in his dress which included knee and shoe buckles and gold-headed cane.” He died of pneumonia in Baltimore in February, 1855, in his eighty-third year.


In my opinion, the top painting is the one by Tilyard. It’s beautifully painting, with a luminosity to it. The second picture is muddied and not well-detailed.

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