2016-09-23 - Frank Mason Storing Hay Pownal VT

Frank Mason Painting Raffle to Benefit the Preservation of the Historic Salmagundi Club.

2016-09-23 - Frank Mason

Frank Mason in the studio. Courtesy: Karen Winslow/Brushwork Blog.

Ruth Osborne

Our 8th annual James Beck Memorial Lecture was a brilliant gathering of those invested in the making of art and the stewarding of its well being.

We were proud to have this year’s lecture hosted at the Art Students League of New York, an historic institution that has been instrumental and innovative in art education in America since 1875. Michael Daley, Director of ArtWatch UK, shared on the intertwining of the Art Students League and ArtWatch. Our founder Prof. Beck, after whom the annual lectures are named, was connected with artists and students at the League. Most notably, the legendary artist and League instructor Frank Mason, with whom he entered the long campaign against the overrestoration of the Sistine Ceiling. Mason himself had been known to lead protests against overcleaning of important paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It is therefore rather fitting to announce that an oil painting by Frank Mason will be raffled off this evening at 6pm at another historic arts organization, the Salmagundi Club downtown. Salmagundi’s Silent Auction is being held to benefit the continued preservation of the landmarked 1850s building on lower 5th Avenue that the Club calls home. The Auction will feature champagne, hor d’oeuvres and music.

You can find more information about tickets for the event here on the Club’s website:

Raffle of Frank Mason Painting

September 23, 20166 to 9 pm — Salmagundi Club, 47 5th Avenue at 12th Street

2016-09-23 - Frank Mason Storing Hay Pownal VT

Frank Mason, Storing Hay, Pownal, Vermont (1959) oil on canvas.

“Storing Hay, Pownal, Vermont” measures 25″ high by 30″ wide and is in a gold metal leaf Florentine style Frame. Painting is signed. It was done by Frank Mason in 1959. Appraised value of painting is $15K.

Anne Mason, widow of Frank and long-time supporter of ArtWatch, says:

Frank would have been happy to know his “Storing Hay, Pownal, Vermont” is part of a fund raising effort to benefit the renovation of the Salmagundi Club. In an era when non-profits are going under, the Salmagundi is alive and well. The raffle is part of a silent auction. On September 23 from 6 to 9 p.m. there will be an evening at the club. Around 8:30 pm there will be a drawing. One lucky winning raffle ticket will be chosen. The winner does not have to be present. BUT think how much fun it would be if you are there for the drawing and WIN!!

2015-05-20 - Alexander Eliot Frank Mason

A Powerful Advocate for Art: Celebrating the Life’s Work of Alexander Eliot.

Ruth Osborne
2015-05-20 - Alexander Eliot Frank Mason

Frank Herbert Mason, Alexander Eliot (1997). Courtesy: The Salmagundi Club.

This week we are saddened to announce the recent passing of writer and painter Alexander Eliot, whose effort in the battle against the controversial Sistine ceiling cleaning had a major impact on the founding of ArtWatch and our continuing efforts to provide a voice for artistic heritage where it is all too often overshadowed by greed and prideful motivations.

Former Director of ArtWatch International, Einav Zamir, was able to interview Mr. Eliot just two years ago on his experience covering the Sistine Chapel for the landmark the 1967/68 documentary “The Secret of Michelangelo, Every Man’s Dream.” This film, at the time both groundbreaking and immensely popular when it broadcast, was created thanks to a tower that moved the researchers along the entirety of the ceiling over a six-week period. Just a few decades later, another scaffold tower would set about erasing the work of Michelangelo as it moved slowly along the immense canvas of ceiling like an eraser across a chalkboard. What Eliot and his colleagues were able to capture for the public eye via film now serves as a rare testimony to the original work of the artist before it was scrubbed by cleaners in the 1980s and 1990s.

“almost everything we saw on the barrel  vault  came  clearly  from  Michelangelo’s  own  inspired  hand.  There  are  passages  of  the  finest,  the   most  delicately  incisive  draughtsmanship  imaginable.”

Eliot’s view of the frescos before the cleaning demonstrated they were in “fabulous condition…the painting itself was all there…extremely subtle, rich, fresh, and pure.” As one given a rare opportunity to record them up close less than two decades before the cleaning commenced, his eyes, and those of his wife Jane and others working on the documentary, served as the best proof there could be that the cleaning had white-washed Michelangelo’s a secco detailing atop the under-painting.

It was Eliot’s involvement in this documentary, and his care and concern for better stewardship of our artistic heritage, that connected him with Beck at the beginnings of ArtWatch.  Eliot’s efforts with great New York classical painter Frank Mason, and later ArtWatch, against the destructive cleaning of the Sistine ceiling by Colalucci and his chemists was something only to be taken on by those who viewed art as something above their own sense of pride and name. Instead of sacrificing what was handed down from Michelangelo over centuries, at the risk of coming up against the Vatican authorities, Eliot with Mason and Beck pursued a tireless campaign for the voice of art in the face of great opposition.

Anne Mason speaks of Eliot’s efforts with her husband:

“those years when Alex, Jane, Frank and so many others were desperately trying to prevent the destruction of the Sistine Chapel…those devastating years.  That’s the only word that comes to mind — devastating.”

And yet, though their efforts did not change the unwilling minds of those involved with the cleaning, stubbornly standing behind their spun stories of a “new Michelangelo,” Anne still spoke with hope in the greater purpose behind their campaigning. She saw what this effort was evidence of – that people like Eliot were passionate enough to rally for the art itself, for something greater than themselves that need not be wiped out for the sake of a PR campaign.

Eliot wrote of the value of art that:
“…every genuine work of art exists in more than the material sense…To maim or destroy a work of art is reprehensible in the same degree that its creation was admirable. A masterpiece by Shakespeare or Beethoven or Michelangelo, say, deserves a natural life of centuries, not years, because it has so much to give. By the same token, it deserves to be kept free of alien encroachments if at all possible.”

His testimony is also recorded in the full-length biography A Light in the Dark: The Art & Life of Frank Mason (2011), which documents his efforts with Frank on the Sistine. His daughter, author Winslow Eliot, will continue to maintain the website devoted to her father’s writing.


By Ruth Osborne

2013-04-27 - Mystical Nativity Sandro Botticelli National Gallery London

Recap: ArtWatch International’s Fourth Annual James Beck Memorial Lecture

Ruth Osborne
2013-04-27 - Mystical Nativity Sandro Botticelli National Gallery London

The focus of Professor Freedberg’s lecture was The Mystical Nativity (ca 1500–1501) by the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli, in the National Gallery in London.

This past Wednesday, April 24th, ArtWatch was proud to present the fourth annual James Beck Memorial Lecture.

Each year ArtWatch holds this event to commemorate the scholarly career and the principled stand of its founder, Professor James Beck. The lectures, organized by Michael Daley, the director of ArtWatch UK, provide a platform for distinguished art world speakers in our New York and London campaigning centers.

Those who were able to attend heard both the lecture by David Freedberg, entitled “Morality and Movement in Renaissance Art” and the speech by Don Reynolds, delivered upon receipt of the 2012 Frank Mason Prize.

Michael Daley of ArtWatch UK, writes of the connection between Beck and the teatro at the Italian Academy: “It was in this hall on Sept 19th 2007 that Columbia University Art History Department conducted a memorial service in honour of Professor James Beck, who had died on May 26th that year,” and goes on to say that, “We in ArtWatch International decided that there were two ways of best honouring his memory and his campaigning. The first was quite simply by continuing to campaign as an organisation against those who (for whatever motives) injure art. . . The second step that we took to honor James Beck was the inauguration of these annual lectures by scholars of distinction on topics of their choice in recognition of his own contributions.”

Within this tradition, David Freedberg, Pierre Matisse Professor of the History of Art in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, and Director of The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, delivered a compelling lecture on the topic of movement in Renaissance art – its implications for both art and cultural historians cannot be overstated. His talk was extremely rich in analytical and contextual insights. As one audience member put it: “Freedberg didn’t play it down for anyone. Everyone was treated as though they were his scholarly equals.” In this way, we were provided with a rare experience, one that left us with much to process and consider in the days to come.

The Frank Mason Prize, awarded at the beginning of the evening, was also a momentous occasion. Of Frank Mason, Jim Beck’s esteemed colleague, Michael Daley states that he had “led marches of protesting students and artists from the New York Art Students League to the Metropolitan Museum of Art against the picture restorations therein. Frank had helped found a small international organisation to fight on behalf of the world’s artistic patrimony and was one the first campaigners against the Sistine Chapel restorations which began in 1980. When Frank died on June 16, 2009, ArtWatch International decided to honour his formative role in our campaigns with a modest annual prize to others who were making a contribution to protecting art.”

Professor James Beck, founder of ArtWatch.

Professor James Beck, founder of ArtWatch.

Donald Martin Reynolds, PhD, to whom we awarded the 2012 prize for his groundbreaking 1984 book “The architecture of New York City” and for his symposium series in honor of the renowned art historian Rudolf Wittkower, now in its 23rd year, delivered what was certainly one of the most eloquent, heartfelt speeches in honor of James Beck. It is hard to imagine a more kind and sincere tribute to the memory of our late founder.

We also wanted to pass along our appreciation for the wonderful staff of the Italian Academy for their guidance and assistance in the weeks prior to the event and on the night of. We hope to have future opportunities to collaborate with this highly professional and dedicated institution.

If you were unable to attend, or if you desire to have a record of the evening, we will be publishing transcripts of the talks in our next journal publication, and we hope to also have a recording of the lecture available for our website.

Lastly, ArtWatch International extends its sincere gratitude to our speakers and guests for making this one of our most successful events in recent years. We hope to see you again soon.