Portrait of Major General Paul Mascarene

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Portrait of Major General Paul Mascarene

United States, 1729
Paintings
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 40 9/16 × 31 5/8 in. (103.03 × 80.33 cm) Frame: 47 1/16 × 38 × 3 in. (119.54 × 96.52 × 7.62 cm)
Museum purchase with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection, Charles H. Quinn Bequest, Eli Harvey, and other donors (78.8)
Currently on public view:
Art of the Americas Building, floor 3 MAP IT
Art of the Americas Building, floor 3

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Curator Notes

In June 1729 Smibert painted a portrait of then-Major Paul Mascarene, his seventh American sitter....
In June 1729 Smibert painted a portrait of then-Major Paul Mascarene, his seventh American sitter. The painting recalls his English, period portrait of Lieutenant General Charles Otway, 1724 (Royal Sussex Regiment, Chichester) in its use of the convention of half armor for a military commander. The armor is at least a century earlier in its design, which presumably was taken from Smibert’s treasury of drawings and engravings. The armor, a highly unusual feature in Boston portraiture, with its virtuoso highlights and reflections, was a showpiece of Smibert’s abilities and could not fail to catch the eye of the poetizing Mather Byles, who mentioned it in the line, "and studious Mascarene asserts his arms." The portrait also contains a landscape background and a small still life of a map and drafting instruments. The still life refers to Mascarene’s coastal survey of Nova Scotia, which could have served as the basis for the fortified harbor seen in the portrait. Smibert was one of the few early colonial artists who sometimes painted specific, actual landscapes as backgrounds in his portraits. Whether it depicts an actual or proposed fortification, it apparently is not Annapolis Royal, the location with which Mascarene is chiefly associated and for which he attempted to improve the fortifications. Paul Mascarene was born Jean-Paul Mascarene in France in 1684 or 1685 of a family of Huguenots later forced to leave the country after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. He was educated in Geneva and in 1706 began a military career in England. In 1708 he was in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, preparing troops for an expedition against Canada, and in 1710 he was the captain who took possession of Port Royal (renamed Annapolis Royal) in the campaign that won Nova Scotia for Britain. He was thereafter very involved in the military life and civil government of the province, although he spent much time in Boston, where he married Elizabeth Perry, built a large brick house, and raised a family. He was known as a man of considerable learning and taste. In a letter of 1740 he referred to "four large pictures of Mr. Smibert" in his possession. Between, 1740 and 1749 he was chief administrator of Nova Scotia during the campaign against Louisbourg. He became a major general in 1758 and died in Boston in 1760.
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About The Era

Although the thirteen colonies that would constitute the United States of America were founded by several different nations, by 1763 (the end of the French and Indian Wars), the British controlled mos...
Although the thirteen colonies that would constitute the United States of America were founded by several different nations, by 1763 (the end of the French and Indian Wars), the British controlled most of North America from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. In many respects the American colonies functioned like an English province. Culturally they were largely British; from interior design and dress to painted portraits, wealthy colonists emulated the London fashions of the period. However, there was often a time lag, as examples of the finest British furniture, household goods, and decorative items such as paintings had to be transported across the ocean.

At first the only trained artists and artisans in the colonies were emigrants from London who thought fame would be easier to achieve in the less competitive atmosphere of Boston or Philadelphia. By the end of the eighteenth century, this traffic had reversed somewhat, as American artists went to London for their training. Portraits were the most popular genre, since British citizens everywhere wanted visual records of their families and heroes. Historical and literary subjects, such as those by Benjamin West, were usually only painted in London; their appreciation required a more educated audience than was the case with many colonists. The pervasive influence of Britain would continue to affect the development of culture in the United States long after the Revolutionary War had severed the Crown’s political authority.
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Label

Exhibition Label, 1997 ...
Exhibition Label, 1997 John Smibert was the first fully trained painter to settle in the colonies. A Scotsman, he studied in London with the painter Sir Godfrey Kneller and pursued a career as a portraitist in Edinburgh and London before sailing for the British colony of Bermuda in 1728, where he intended to become a professor of art. While on a stopover, he became enamored of Boston and decided to settle there. Technically superior to any other artist in the colonies at the time, Smibert achieved great success. This virtuosic portrait of Paul Mascarene contrasts the highlights of the armor with the soft atmosphere of the landscape seen through the window. Although born in France of Huguenot parents, Mascarene was a captain in the British army and was involved in the campaign that won Nova Scotia for Britain. The map and instruments on the table refer to a surveying project he undertook in that province. The distant buildings may allude to his plans for a fortification of the area. The portrait was no doubt done in Boston while Mascarene was home visiting family.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era. LACMA collections online. Retrieved on 12/30/2009 from http://collectionsonline.lacma.org/mweb/aa/abouttheera/early_american_paintings_abouttheera.asp
  • Quick, Michael et. al. American Portraiture in the Grand Manner: 1720-1920.  Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1981.
  • About the Era. LACMA collections online. Retrieved on 12/30/2009 from http://collectionsonline.lacma.org/mweb/aa/abouttheera/early_american_paintings_abouttheera.asp
  • Quick, Michael et. al. American Portraiture in the Grand Manner: 1720-1920.  Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1981.
  • Price, Lorna.  Masterpieces from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1988.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • LACMA: Obras Maestras 1750-1950: Pintura Estadounidense Del Museo De Arte Del Condado De Los Angeles. Mexico, D.F.: Museo Nacional de Arte, 2006.
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