Bill Alexander (painter)

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Bill Alexander
Wilhelm Alexander [1]

(1915-04-02)2 April 1915
Died24 January 1997(1997-01-24) (aged 81)
Known for

William Alexander (2 April 1915 – 24 January 1997; born Wilhelm Alexander) known as Bill Alexander on his TV show; was a German painter, art instructor, and television host. He was the creator and host of The Magic of Oil Painting (1974–82) television series that ran on PBS in the United States. He wrote The Art of Bill Alexander (1987–95), a series of books on wet-on-wet oil painting. He also taught the television painter Bob Ross the wet-on-wet technique.

Early life[edit]

Bill Alexander was born in East Prussia (in what is now Poland). His family fled to Berlin during World War I. Apprenticed as a carriage maker, Alexander was drafted into the Wehrmacht during World War II. Captured by Allied troops, he painted portraits of Allied officers' wives and he soon made his way to the United States.[2]


After World War II, Alexander became a refugee, and professional painter, pioneering the modern quick version of the wet-on-wet technique, and moving to North America. Later, he became a TV host on his painting education TV show.[1]

Alexander is best known for the television program The Magic of Oil Painting (1974-1982), which ran on PBS in the United States. Beginning with The Art of Bill Alexander and Lowell Speers Alexander teamed with other artists on PBS series' that ran from 1984-1992, included The Art of Bill Alexander & Robert Warren. Alexander also teamed with painters Sharon Perkins and Diane André. Alexander and the second artist would alternate episodes, with both painters using the wet-on-wet method. This series is often erroneously listed either as a series of books or as a single documentary.

TV host and prolific painter Bob Ross studied under Alexander, from whom he learned his wet-on-wet technique, a method of painting rapidly using progressively thinner layers of oil paint.[3] Ross dedicated the first episode of the second season of The Joy of Painting to Alexander, explaining that "Years ago, Bill taught me this fantastic technique, and I feel as though he gave me a precious gift, and I'd like to share that gift with you [the viewer]".[4] As Ross's popularity grew, his relationship with Alexander became increasingly strained. In a 1991 interview with The New York Times, Alexander said of Ross, "He betrayed me. I invented 'wet on wet'. I trained him, and he is copying me -- what bothers me is not just that he betrayed me, but that he thinks he can do it better."[5] Art historians have pointed out that the "wet-on-wet" (or alla prima) technique actually originated in Flanders during the 15th century, and was used by Frans Hals, Diego Velázquez, Caravaggio, Paul Cezanne, John Singer Sargent, and Claude Monet, among many others.[6][7]


  • W. Alexander (The Magic of Oil Painting Artist) (1983). The Bill Alexander Story: An Autobiography. Kendall Hunt. ISBN 0840329903.
  • W. Alexander (1989). Secrets to the Magic of Oil Painting. Walter Foster.
  • W. Alexander (1990). The Magic of Oil Painting. Walter Foster. ISBN 0929261372.
  • William Alexander (1997). Landscapes: Learn to Paint Step by Step. Walter Foster. ISBN 0929261607.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Robert Phillip Jones (27 October 2015). "Bob Ross, Bill Alexander - beyond the pale?". Painters Online.
  2. ^ Alexander, William (1983). The Bill Alexander Story: An Autobiography. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Pub Co. p. 244. ISBN 0-8403-2990-3.
  3. ^ Bob Ross: The Joy of Painting; A Walk in the Woods on YouTube
  4. ^ "The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross: Meadow Lake", Season 2, Episode 1, 1 November 1983 on YouTube
  5. ^ Stanley, A. (December 22, 1991). "Bob Ross, the Frugal Gourmet of Painting". The New York Times. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  6. ^ Taubes, F. Mastery of Alla Prima Painting. F&W Pub.(1980), pp. 22-4. ISBN 0891340297.
  7. ^ Gury, A. Alla Prima: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Direct Painting. Watson-Guptill (2009), p. 16. ISBN 0823098346.

External links[edit]