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Perkins, Frederick Mason

    Full Name: Perkins, Frederick Mason

    Other Names:

    • F. Mason Perkins

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1874

    Date Died: 1955

    Place Born: Shanghai, Shanghai, China

    Place Died: Assisi, Perugia, Umbria, Italy

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Italian (culture or style), Italian Renaissance-Baroque styles, painting (visual works), and Renaissance

    Career(s): art collectors


    Collector and scholar of early Italian renaissance art; protégé of Berenson. Perkins’ parents were American missionaries in China where Perkins was raised, and although protestant was educated by Jesuits. As a young man he studied piano with Theodor Leschetizky (1830-1915) in Vienna. He moved to Florence in the 1890s, then Assisi and finally Siena where he purchased Sassoforte, above Lastra Signa. There he met the expatriate English-speaking community studying in Italy and living inexpensively. These included R. Langton Douglas, then the Anglican chaplain, the historian William Heywood, and art historians Robert H. Hobart Cust Edward Hutton and Charles Fairfax Murray. In 1898 he met Bernard Berenson and became one of Berenson’s earliest disciples. In 1902 Perkins issued his a book on Giotto, which, though he later repudiated it, influenced much of subsequent art history. Berenson later claimed that Mary Berenson, his wife, was the actual author Perkins’ first article on Andrea del Castano for the Burlington Magazine as well as much of Perkins’ 1902 book on Giotto. The truth at least was that in later years Mary greatly favored Perkins’s wife, Lucy Olcott, against the philandering Perkins. Perkins married Olcott, who was working with Heywood on the Guide to Siena, in 1903. Perkins wrote the comments on the artwork to the Guide. Perkins began contributing to the Milanese art periodical Rassegna d’Arte, founded in 1901, liberally. Lucy Perkins an employee at the Metropolitan, and later an art dealer, became Berenson’s personal secretary for 1909-1910 at Mary’s suggestion. At about the same time, Mason Perkins had been retained by Berenson to do the initial dealing with Italian picture dealers for Berenson’s clients in the United States. Perkins was also engaged in writing annotation to the new De Vere translation of Vasari’s Vite. But Perkins was unable to finish the project. Only his annotated volume of Vasari’s life of Pietro Lorenzetti appeared in 1912. In 1928 Mason Perkins joined the Roman Catholic church, adding “Francis” to his name. After Lucy Olcott’s death, Perkins married the Britisher Irene Vavasour Elder. The two moved from Florence to Assisi where they purchased a house in the Piazza Vescovado. During World War II, Irene and Mason Perkins were interned in Perugia, and upon release, hosted Allied soldiers in the months following the war. Perkins died in 1955 and is buried in the Camposanto of Assisi. He willed his personal collection to the Sacro Convento of Sanfrancesco Assisi at his death. He retained his United States citizenship his entire life, where his kept a small fortune in American banks, redirected to the poor of Assisi. Perkins’ Giotto book weighed in on the Rucellai Madonna debate ascribing it to a follower of Duccio. In later years he repudiated much of his thought on Giotto. His conclusions, including that none of the upper and lower frescos of the church at Assisi were by the master, was to have been incorporated in his edition of Vasari, which never appeared.

    Selected Bibliography

    Giotto. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1902. [unpublished essays on Giotto and the Assisi chapel] Appendix. Hutton, Edward. Assisi and Umbria Revisited. 1953.Pope-Hennessy: “In writing this volume I have had one supreme advantage, the friendship and advice of Mr. F. Mason Perkins. With the greatest generosity he has allowed me to draw on his unexampled knowledge of Sienese painting…. This book as a whole owes much to Mr. Perkins’s encouragement and inspiration…. Among those to whom I have applied for advice on questions of varying importance I must thank particularly Capt. Langton Douglas.” [John Pope-Hennessy, Giovanni di Paola, Chatto and Windus, London, 1937, pp. vii-viii]To Mr. F. Mason Perkins, who has perhaps a more intimate knowledge of, and a greater intuitive sympathy for, Sassetta’s style than any other living critic…I also owe much…. In the nature of things it is impossible to record here individually the many other scholars and officials whose help I have received, but I must nevertheless recall the name of…Captain Langton Douglas. [John Pope-Hennessy, Sassetta, Chatto and Windus, London, 1939, unpaged vii]


    Douglas, Claire, and [reply] Pope-Hennessy, John. “On R. Langton Douglas.” New York Review of Books 34 no. 12 (July 16, 1987): ; Simpson, Colin. Artful Partners: Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen. New York: Macmillan, 1986; Zeri, Federico. La collezione Federico Mason Perkins. Turin: U. Allemandi, 1988; Samuels, Ernst. Bernard Berenson: The Making of a Connoiseur. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1979, p. 311; [obituary:] Hutton, Edward. “F. Mason Perkins.” Burlington Magazine 97 (December 1955): 391-92.


    "Perkins, Frederick Mason." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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