Alexander Mann was born in the prosperous Victorian world of Glasgow. Growing up, he and his elder brother James were given every encouragement to exercise their talent in painting and drawing. The family often went on visits to Northern Italy and Switzerland, to popular resorts such as Lausanne and Chateau d’Oeux, to Brittany and to Paris. As a child, Mann had adopted the habit of drawing whatever he saw - his earliest works are landscape views made while on holiday, and he also produced dramatic and humorous subjects. Such visits were the inspiration to Alexander’s decision to settle into a career as an artist.
When he left the Glasgow Academy, to become an apprentice in his father’s firm, he attended evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art, and painted, drew and studied art whenever the opportunity occurred. In 1877 he settled in Paris. During the first year he studied at the Academie Julien, and met and saw the paintings of Jules Breton, Bastien-Lepage and the Impressionists who were gaining increasing attention. In 1881 he became a student of Carolus-Duran who advocated the study of 17th century Dutch and Spanish painting so that a student might learn how to use black and how to manipulate tones insisting on direct painting on canvas rather than compositional drawing. This period of Mann’s production is marked by composition dependent on the contrast of relative depths of tone.
During the years he spent in Paris a divergence occurred between his figurative subjects, derived from the example of Carolus-Duran, and his landscapes, which reveal the influence of Bastien-Lepage. Although Mann and Bastien-Lepage never met, Bastien-Lepage’s pictures could be seen in Paris, London and in 1881, in Glasgow. His influence on Mann was to create interest in rustic subjects, closely and objectively observed, and painted as realistically as possible. This is reflected more generally in the 1880’s with a distinct reaction, in artistic circles, against city life, attributing virtue to inhabitants of the unspoilt countryside. Mann in 1887, with his new wife, moved to a house in Berkshire where he spent his time painting his family and neighbours at West Hagbourne and later at Blewbury.
Having returned from France, Mann evolved a style which incorporated the diverse influences he came across, full of character and individuality.
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