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Mather, Frank Jewett, Jr.

    Full Name: Mather, Frank Jewett, Jr.

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1868

    Date Died: 1953

    Place Born: Deep River, Middlesex, CT, USA

    Place Died: Princeton, Mercer, NJ, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): archaeology and Modern (style or period)


    Second professor of the Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University, 1910-1933 and its first “modernist” (i.e., post-classicist). Mather was the son of Frank Jewett Mather, Sr. (1835-1929), a lawyer, and Caroline Arms Graves (Mather). After graduating in 1889 from Williams College, Williamstown, MA, Mather entered Johns Hopkins University where he completed his Ph.D. in 1892 in English philology and literature. That same year he traveled to Berlin to study art (specifically Italian painting) returning in 1893 to teach Anglo-Saxon and Romance languages at Williams. He mad a second trip to Europe, 1897-1898, studying at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris. In 1900 he spent a year in Paris returning in 1901 to accept a job as an assistant editor of the Nation and then as the editorials writer for the New York Evening Post. He spent part of 1903 in Spain where the painting of Velasquez particularly impressed him. In 1904 he began art criticism for the Post and assuming the American editor duties of the Burlington Magazine. He married Ellen Suydam Mills in 1905. Mather contracted typhoid fever the following year and, as part of the recovery, moved to Italy. He worked as a freelance journalist there covering among other events the Messina earthquake of 1908. Mather met the English-speaking expatriate community in there, including the art historians Bernard Berenson and Allan Marquand, founder (and major benefactor) of Princeton’s the Department of Art and Archeology. Marquand, who was traveling in Italy at the time, invited Mather to teach art history at Princeton, which Mather did beginning in 1910. Mather became the first Marquand Professor of Art and Archaeology, once again writing art criticism for the Post. Mather’s first book was the 1912 Homer Martin: Poet in Landscape on the relatively minor painter Homer Dodge Martin. His second, The Collectors, featured an early profile of Berenson. Mather recognized the Armory Show in 1913 to be the epoch event it was: his review of it in the Independent won him an honorary degree from Williams College the same year. His collected criticism and essays appeared as the book Estimates in Art in 1916. Mather continued to write scholarly articles on art until the United States entered World War I, when he served as an ensign in the naval reserve. In 1920 Mather joined the Smithsonian Art Commission, a group charged with advising the national art collections and assumed the editorship of Art in America. His survey of likenesses of the poet Dante, Portraits of Dante, appeared in 1921. In 1922, Mather was chosen to direct the Museum of Historic Art (now the Princeton University Museum of Art). He used the university’s endowments and his own funds to build the core of the European and American painting collection In 1923 he issued his History of Italian Painting, a standard especially among the general reading public. When Marquand died in 1924, Mather took over editing of Marquand’s books on the Robbia artists (published in 1928). That was followed by two books in 1927, one authored with fellow Princeton art Professor Charles Rufus Morey and the musicologist William James Henderson (1855-1937), The American Spirit in Art for The Pageant of America series, and Modern Painting, a curious book that valued the classical-tradition in painting of the nineteenth-century but little of the twentieth. He particularly disparaged German Expressionist painting. In 1931 Mather updated his Estimates collection with pieces on Albert Pinkham Ryder, Thomas Eakins, and Winslow Homer. He was among the first to rank these Americans higher than the Society painters (e.g., John Singer Sargent) which were contemporarily valued. A book on The Isaac Master was published in 1932. He retired emeritus from Princeton in 1933, retaining the directorship of the art museum. Mather wrote a treatise on esthetics, Concerning Beauty in 1935. Venetian Painters appeared in 1936. Western European Painting of the Renaissance in 1939. Mather attempted vainly to re-enlist in the navy for World War II (he was over seventy). In 1946 he retired from the Museum, donating his collection of prints and drawings to the collection. He was succeeded by Ernest DeWald. Mather retired to his Bucks County farm, known as “Three Brooks.” He died in a Princeton hospital at age 85. His papers are housed at Princeton University. Like many independently wealthy self-educated art historians of the early twentieth century, Mather was highly opinioned and at times quixotic. His art histories are seldom consulted today; his art criticism, however, was both influential in his own time and enduring. His criticism written in the Atlantic Monthly reached a wide audience. In 1963 the professional society for art historians, the College Art Association, named an annual award for American criticism in his honor. Mather’s criticism seldom pandered to the crowd or even to museum practice. He ranks among the top builders of early academic art collections among American universities. As a museum director, he was against “period rooms” in museums, the practice of placing objects together in a total environmental consistent with the period in which the objects were produced. He criticized the 1924 American Wing opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York for pandering to the “antiquarian sentimentality” as well as the larger size modern museums. Distinctly pro-French (or anti-German), perhaps because of the World War, he once wrote in a book introduction, “I shudder when I think what a German or a Germanized American scholar would have made of the subject…”.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] The Conditional Sentence in Anglo-Saxon. Johns Hopkins University, 1892; The Collectors: being Cases Mostly under the Ninth and Tenth Commandments. New York: H. Holt and Company, 1912; [review of Amory Show] “Newest Tendencies in Art.” Independent (New York) March 6, 1913: 504-512; Estimates in Art. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1916; [anti-German remark] “Foreward.” Clapp, Frederick M. Jacopo Carucci da Pontormo, his Life and Work. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1916, p. xi; edited, Art in America 10 ( Jan. 1920-); The Portraits of Dante Compared with the Measurement of his Skull and Reclassified. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1921; co-edited, Art Studies: Medieval, Renaissance and Modern1 (1923) – v. 8 (1931); A History of Italian Painting. New York: H. Holt and Company, 1923; and Morey, Charles Rufus, and Henderson, William James. The American Spirit in Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1927; Modern Painting: a Study of Tendencies. New York: H. Holt and Company, 1927; “Art and Authenticity.” Atlantic Monthly 143 March 1929: 310-320; “Smaller and Better Museums: a Commentary and a Suggestion.” Atlantic Monthly 144 ( December 1929): 768-773; Concerning Beauty. Princeton: Louis Clark Vanuxem Foundation/Princeton University Press, 1935; Venetian Painters. New York: H. Holt and Company, 1936; Western European Painting of the Renaissance. New York: Henry Holt, 1939.


    Wilson, Edmund. “Mr. Morey and the Mithraic Bull.” in The Triple Thinkers: Twelve Essays on Literary Subjects: 8-12. Revised edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1948, pp. 3-14 (amusing sketch of Mather); [museum opinion] Tomkins, Calvin. Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1970, p. 201; Turner, A. Richard. “Mather, Frank Jewett.” American National Biography; Lavin, Marilyn Aronberg. The Eye of the Tiger: the Founding and Development of the Department of Art and Archaeology, 1883-1923, Princeton University. Princeton, NJ: Department of Art and Archaeology and The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1983; Marquis, Alice Goldfarb. Alfred H. Barr, Jr.: Missionary for the Modern. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1989, p. 25; Morgan, H. Wayne. Keepers of Culture: The Art-Thought of Kenyon Cox, Royal Cortissoz and Frank Jewett Mather, Jr. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1989, pp. 105-149; “Frank Jewett Mather Papers.” Manuscripts Division Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library,; [obituary:] “Dr. F. J. Mather, Jr. Art Scholar, Dead.” New York Times November 12, 1953, p. 31.


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