Alexander John Drysdale (1870–1934) was an early 20th-century artist who specialized in landscapes of Louisiana using the technique of oil wash, which gave his works a characteristic hazy look. Drysdale was born in Marietta, Georgia, the only son of an ordained Episcopal priest. He initially pursued art as a hobby. He worked as a banker while taking art classes at night at the Southern Art Union. This gave Drysdale the opportunity to study with the leading artists of the time in New Orleans, including Paul E. Poincy. Beginning in 1901, he studied at the Art Students League in New York City. There he had associations with artists George Inness, Robert Henri, William Merritt Chase, and others. Drysdale took classes from esteemed artists—including Charles Courtney Curran and Frank Vincent DuMond—and was exposed to the Impressionist aesthetic of William Merritt Chase. During his three years in New York, he continued to submit work to exhibitions in New Orleans. He also befriended fellow pupil Helen Turner, whose career would far eclipse his own.
Drysdale returned to New Orleans in 1903 and opened a studio, initially advertising himself as a portrait painter, though landscapes remained his subject of choice. In 1909, he was awarded a gold medal by the Artists’ Association, securing his place in the local art scene. He established his studio at 320 Exchange Place in the New Orleans French Quarter. Significant commissions included D.H. Holmes Department Store and Sushan Airport, as well as showings at Tulane University and the National Association of Newspaper Artists. In later life, Drysdale was partially supported by the Civil Works Administration. Today his art can be viewed at the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and The Historic New Orleans Collection among others.
Drysdale’s personal expression as an artist springs from his creation of a highly idiosyncratic medium. He thinned oil paints with kerosene to create a wash—not unlike watercolor—which he applied to a very porous artist board. In a tactic that surely increased his productivity, he employed not only a brush but also used cotton balls dipped in the color wash as a tool for daubing pigment onto the surface. Kerosene has a rapid evaporation factor which, combined with the viscosity of its petroleum base, gave these works precisely that moist and humid glow he sought to express the light and environment of the Louisiana bayous. Having developed and perfected this trademark technique, Drysdale was prolific. Some accounts estimate that he created ten thousand works of art over the course of his career, paintings once described as “misty blue and green landscapes seen through tears or soft rainfall.”