Frank Mason

Frank Herbert Mason was born Feb. 20, 1921, in Cleveland, Ohio. Artistic influences were strong in his home – his mother was a musician and his father a Shakespearean actor. Both also painted. In 1932 his family moved to New York, where young Frank was apprenticed to study with the painter Manuel Rayes at the age of 12. At 16 he earned a scholarship to the Art Students League of New York. There, he began a long period of study and friendship with the classicist Frank Vincent Dumond, which continued until the latter’s death in 1951. Mason succeeded Dumond at the Art Student’s League, where his teaching has achieved legendary status among students who continue thrive through his classes. Advanced students serve as apprentices in his studio, preparing varnishes, mixing mediums, and hand-grinding pigments. Mason died on June 16, 2009, at the age of 88.

Mason is a prolific artist. His portraits include Averell Harriman, John Cardinal Wright, and Thomas Wolfe. Religious paintings include the Resurrection of Christ in Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City (1972), and San Rocco for the Church of Santa Vittoria, Anticoli Corrado, Italy. In 1964 he completed a major commission of eight large canvases on the Life of St. Anthony of Padua for the 11th Century Church of San Giovanni di Malta, Venice. In recognition of his work, the Order of Malta conferred upon him the Cross of Merit, Prima Classe. He became the first painter to receive the honor since Caravaggio. His other awards include Figure Composition-St. Anthony, Penn-National, Ligonier (1968), and both the Prix d’Amerique du Nord and the American Artists Professional League Gold Medal of Honor, Exposition Intercontinale, Palais des Congrés, Monaco (1968). The AAPL also honored him with its President’s Award at the Grand National Exhibition (1973). In 1999 he received the Arthur Ross Award by Classical America and the Newington-Cropsey Foundation’s Award for Artistic Excellence. His works have been exhibited throughout the world. Selected exhibitions include the National Arts Club, New York (1972), Mood Gallery, Milan, Italy (1975), John Pence Gallery, San Francisco (1977 & 79), the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (1979), and the Union League Club, New York (1988). Selected collections which hold his works are the Butler Institute of American Art (Youngstown, OH), the U.S. War Department (Washington, DC), Museum of the City of New York, and the Anticoli Museum, Anticoli Corrado, Italy.

In addition to his teaching and studio work, Mason is a tireless critic of the overzealous cleaning of masterworks. In 1960 he organized a petition drive among artists seeking a moratorium on all restoration work at the Metropolitan Museum. He continued the cause in the 1970s, eventually forcing the museum to acknowledge past damage to some artworks and establish a principal of accountability in conservation work. He is a founding member of the Board of ArtWatch International, an organization that calls public attention to the over-cleaning of Old Master works, and was a vocal critic of the most recent cleaning of Michelangelo’s frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In all ways, Mason promotes the historic legacy of time-honored practices in painting.

Source of Biography
Frank Mason Retrospective Exhibition (catalog notes), The Art Students League, New York, 1993;
Marquis Who’s Who in American Art, New Providence, NJ, 1999-2000;
American Arts Quarterly, winter 2000, 45-6;
Obituary, [London} Times, July 1, 2009