John Adams Elder, painter of landscapes, portraits, and genre scenes, was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia. As a boy he learned the craft of cameo cutting. In 1850, at the age of seventeen he moved to New York City, where he studied briefly with Daniel P. Huntington (1816-1906). Within a year of his arrival in New York he traveled to Dusseldorf, Germany, and was a student of Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868) for five years. Upon his return to America he worked as a painter in New York City and in October 1856 exhibited a painting at the Richmond Mechanic Institute. Elder returned to Fredericksburg in 1860 and in 1862 enlisted as a solder in the Confederate States army. After the war he worked in Richmond and Fredericksburg, where he died. Elder was particularly known for his genre paintings and his battle scenes. He also painted portraits of Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson "Stonewall" Jackson.
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