Oliver Frazer

(4 February 1808 - 9 February 1864)

Portraitist, born February 4, 1808 (a different source show birth year as 1804), in Fayette County, County, Kentucky, to Alexander and Nancy (nee Oliver) Frazer. In 1825 he left school to study art with Matthew Harris Jouett. After Jouett died in 1827, Frazer left Kentucky for Philadelphia, becoming a pupil of Thomas Sully. Around 1830, Frazer returned to Lexington to begin work as a portrait painter. Frazer sailed for France in May 1834, to study the Old Masters; he studied painting in Paris under Thomas Couture and Baron Antoine-Jean Gros. During 1835-35, Frazer visited major museums in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, and England. Returning to Lexington in 1838, he opened a portrait studio at 12 East Main Street. During the next few years, Frazer painted portraits of Mrs. Henry Clay, Jr. (Julia Prather), Richard H. Menefee, Joel T. Hart, Waller Bullock Redd, Col. William Robertson McKee, and other notable Kentuckians. Four portraits of Henry Clay are known to be the work of Frazer, including the well-known likeness of the aging statesman ca. 1851.

In 1838, Frazer married Martha Bell Mitchell of Lexington, niece of Mrs. Matthew Jouett. They lived in a small house on Georgetown Road in Fayette County for the first few years of their marriage. In the late 1850s they moved into nearby (Vaucluse, fr. valley shut in) Eothen (now Malvern Hill), built by the Rev. James Moore. Failing eyesight in his later years forced Frazer to cease painting.

The Kentucky Encyclopedia, © Copyright Ownership: See William Barrow Floyd, (Lexington, Ky., 1968) Jouett-Bush-Frazer: Early Kentucky Artists.

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Self-Portrait Oliver Frazer Self-Portrait

Oliver Frazer was born in Fayette County, Kentucky, February 4, 1808, and died at his home near Lexington, February 9, 1864. He was the son of Alexander Frazer, an Irish patriot, who had taken part in the insurrection led by the immortal Robert Emmett, and had escaped to America. He was married soon after locating in Fayette County to Miss Nancy Oliver, famed as a beauty. To this union two sons, James and Oliver, were born.

The father dying while Oliver was very young, an uncle, Robert Frazer, assumed a charge of his education. He early showed signs of great artistic talent, and his uncle placed him under the tuition of Kentucky's great artist, Matthew H. Jouett. Later he was sent to Philadelphia and studied under Sully. After his course in Philadelphia he spent four years studying in Europe, attending the art schools of Paris, Florence, Berlin, and London. Returning to America, he opened a studio in Lexington. On the walls of his studio were hung many of the copies he made from paintings of the old masters while in Europe.

Frazer devoted himself principally to portrait painting, his group portrait of his wife and children, and portraits of Col. W. R. McKee, Chief Justice George Robertson, M. T. Scott, Joel T. Hart, the famous sculptor, and Henry Clay being among his works. His portrait of Henry Clay has been considered by many critics as the finest portrait of the Great Commoner ever made.

Mr. Frazer was married in 1858 to Miss Martha Bell, an accomplished young lady of Lexington. Seven children were born of this marriage, two of whom Miss Nannie Frazer, and Mrs. Kate Frazer Redd, are living.

Filson Club Article
For the major part of this information relative to Frazer we are indebted to the article read before the Filson Club on April 4, 1898, by General Samuel W. Price, and found in No. 17 Filson Club publications. In this article, in referring to the list of portraits we have mentioned, General Price says: "Any one of the portraits mentioned would have given their author a world-wide reputation had they been exhibited abroad. His great mistake was in locating himself in so small a place as Lexington. The horizon was too contracted for one of his genius. The State should have placed his and Jouett's remains alongside of those of Hart in the State Cemetery at Frankfort, and over the remains placed a shaft of granite in honor of three of Kentucky's best artists. But it is perhaps best that his ashes were not distributed, for now they lie in the beautiful cemetery at Lexington, among his friends and relatives, to remain in peace until the clarion call of the archangel."

We believe that all who knew the condition of the portrait before its restoration will agree that it required equally as great artistic skill to restore it as it required originally to paint it. But if there is any doubt as to this it will be removed when the portrait is unveiled. I shall wast no time discussing the success of the work -- it speaks for itself -- but few words about the artist are in order.

(Professor Pasquale Farina, the artist who restored the Washington portrait, was born in Naples, Italy, November 2, 1864. He studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts at Naples, and at the age of 17, was Assistant Porfessor of Chemistry in the Royal Hospice of Naples. He continued his teaching and art work in Naples until 1887.... In November, 1901, he came to the United States, and located at Philadelphis, where he continued his work to this day, and one of the leading art critics of America. He made a special study of the art of restoring old masters and other valuable paintings....[Excerpt from source)

Frankfort possesses more than one portrait painted by Oliver Frazer, the Lexington artist, whose portrait of Washington was unveiled in the Hall of Fame at the Capitol yesterday. At least three of his canvasses hang in the home of Mrs. R. A. Frazer, 422 Conway Street. Her husband and the late Robert A. Frazer, who was at one time City Engineer, was a second cousin of the artist, and Mrs. Frazer said last night that she has portraits of her husband's father, uncle and grandfather, painted by Oliver Frazer. She also has a portrait of her grandfather, Col. Anthony Crockett, but she is not sure this is the work of Frazer.

The Frazer, or Frazier, family is Irish. The life of the artist in Filson Club publication asys his father was an Irish patriot, who fled from his native land to America, and, like many other members of the family, adopted various spellings of the name. The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, Frankfort, Kentucky, Volume 13, No. 37, 1915.

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Significance: (Vaucluse, fr. valley shut in) Eothen (now Malvern Hill). Year of erection: 1798. Built for (first owner): Rev. James Moore. Original intended use: Residence. Rev. James Moore was the first minister of Christ Church Cathedral and president of Transylvania College. Later it became the home of Waller Redd and during the Civil War it was purchased by the Artist, Oliver Frazer. A daughter of Oliver Frazer married Oliver Redd, brother of Col. Richard Redd, and it was Eothan that this southern veteran made his home with his niece, Miss Fanny Redd.

Born in Fayette County, Frazer studied portraiture under Matthew Harris Jouett in Lexington and Thomas Sully in Philadelphia, then continued his education in Great Britain and Europe. Returning to Lexington, he was popular and busy as a portraitist until his eyesight began to fail about 1850.


Born in Fayette County, Kentucky, Oliver Frazer became a portrait painter. He took his earliest studies from Matthew Harris Jouett in Lexington and then with Thomas Sully in Philadelphia. He continued his education in Great Britain and Europe where one of his most influential teachers was George Peter Alexander Healy.

Returning to Lexington, Oliver Frazer became a popular and busy portraitist until his eyesight began to fail about 1850. He died 9 February 1864 and is buried in the Lexington Cemetery.

Frazer writes to his mother about who and what he's seen while studying painting in Paris. He writes that he and his friends were impressed when they heard Robert Breckinridge preach. He mentions seeing the the elevation of an Egyptian obelisk in the Place de Concorde. While at the louvre he describes notable visitors including Robert Pel, Lady Mary Fox and a poet named Rogers.

Frazer, Oliver 1804-1864 1836 letter.

Included is a letter, 13 February 1837, written to his mother from Paris, France discussing family news, a pre-lenten carnival in Paris, and an illness from which he is suffering. Another letter written during the 1850s discusses painting a picture, and noting that his eyes are so weak he has difficulty seeing.

Oliver Frazer: miscellaneous papers, 1837 and undated.

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