Today, art historian Patricia Moss takes a break from researching the mystery portrait to discuss George Caleb Bingham’s portrait of Thomas Hoyle Mastin.
Before and after portraits of George Caleb Bingham’s Thomas Hoyle Mastin, 1871, illustrated Watson’s blog post on preservation. Bingham captured the posture of a former Confederate cavalry officer in his likeness of a prosperous banker. Bingham painted not only this portrait but also one of Mastin’s son, John Jerome Mastin, 1871.
At the auction following the death of Bingham’s widow in 1893, Mastin bought Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1871, the Missouri artist’s copy of the original by his fellow student in Dusseldorf, Germany in the mid-1850s, Emmanuel Leutze. The three paintings descended to three different family members. One descendant sold the history piece in 1975. It is now in the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia. The portrait of Mastin’s son was sold in Chicago sometime after 1986 and is now “lost.” This portrait of Mastin himself eventually hung in an antique store owned by a descendant’s wife and her business partner. The partner never liked the portrait. While the portrait owners were away, she took it down and put it in storeroom, laid it horizontally, and used it as a table. The weight from other objects slowly pulled the canvas from its supports until it sagged and stained and tore the fabric.
When I found the owner, I discovered an engaging and kind gentleman. He wanted the painting to receive the care it needed. The buyer sent it to a conservator – now retired, but on whom we rely for recommendations – who restored a storage table to a majestic portrait. The images merit a second look: