John Mastin of Sheffield
(Born at Marchamley, Shropshire in 1865. Died at Sheffield in 1932.)
John Mastin of Sheffield,
M.A.; D.Sc.; Ph.D.; Litt.D.(summa cum laude); D.D.(cum laude); F.I.S.; F.R.A.S.; F.S.A.(Scot); etc
"Of the many individuals whose names are associated with the artistic life of Sheffield - T. B. Hardy, Frank Saltfleet, F. H. Varley, Stanley Royle - none had a more curious and unconventional career than John Mastin (1865 - 1932). Up to the time he decided to engage in freelance work at the age of forty-one, he was a frequent exhibitor in London and provincial centres; he had numerous pupils and received fairly regular commissions. Yet in his native city Mastin is now almost completely forgotten; and even if canvases by him did happen to turn up in the sale rooms, the chances are that few dealers would attach any significance to his name. The reason for his posthumous neglect may not be unconnected with what appears to be the artist's intuitive sense that his idiom was losing its appeal. Once he had reached a certain point, Mastin decided to 'diversify' in order to utilise his talents in a number of directions. In the end this led him away from Sheffield, and he eventually retired to Pen-y-Groes, some seven miles to the south of Caernarvon. His paintings may not, when compared with those of some contemporaries, be of the highest order, even though one or two did make a 'hit'. But in one sense he is a representative phenomenon - an example of a man of very considerable intellectual ability who was astute enough to take advantage of the fact that he was born into an age when certain kinds of pioneering adventurousness commanded a kind of respect it would be difficult to achieve today. His record therefore merits attention even if, as is probable, the pictures he painted would now be considered less worthy of esteem than those of his more esoteric competitors in the field of art.
"John Mastin: M.A.; D.Sc.; Ph.D.; Litt.D.(summa cum laude); D.D.(cum laude); F.I.S.; F.R.A.S.; F.S.A.(Scot); etc
"Also the following degrees conferred by various Universities, in each case "honoris causa" for Scientific Investigation, Discovery and Reasearch: M.A.; D.Sc.; Ph.D.; L.L.D.; Author, Scientist, Portrait Painter, Book Illustrator; Honorary Fellow and Professor of Modern and Classical Literature in the University, Washington; Professor of Physics and of Philosophy in the University, Kapurthala, British India; University Examiner in Egyptology, Chemistry, etc; and for the degree of B.Litt.; Litt.D.; Ph.D.; D.Sc.; etc; etc.
"Descendent of John Mastin of Lincoln (died, Lincoln, June 5th, 1218); of John Mastin of Ancaster and Winceby, Lincolnshire (died 1643); and of the Reverend John Mastin, Vicar of Naseby, Northants (author of "The History and Antiquities of Naseby", 1792). Also a member of several Craft Lodges, well-known and prominent Freemason, a member of Royal Arch Chapter, of the Order of the Secret Monitor, University of London, Conclave No 2.
"Life Governor of one of the P.G.L. Charities, etc.
"Gold Medal, Paris, 1896, High Honours at the Académie Royale des Beaux Arts, Antwerp, Holland. Member of the Académie Parisienne des Arts.
"First to identify a new species of moss growing in England. Also, first to discover Polycistina from the West Indies on the British shores.
"Works: Scientific romances and novels, many works on science, natural history, chemistry and metallurgy, and text books used in all parts of the world.
"Many discoveries and invetions in, and relating to, chemistry, motor traction, feeds, colouring matter, essences, etc. Consulting chemist and expert in technical science, and in science as applied to arts and manufactures."
Painting of Alderman G. Senior, J. P., Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Coronation Year, 1902 by John Mastin, RBA.
Subscribed for by the Citizens of Sheffield, presented and hung in the Town Hall, 10th November, 1902.
"Very few of Mastin's paintings are now accessible, so it is virtually impossible to assess his technical ability at first hand. It is always dangerous to judge an artist with reference to the reputation he once enjoyed; but in Mastin's case we are helped by the press notices he assembled - and reprinted. These show a certain unanimity of opinion in respect of several works and a disconcerting neutrality in the judgment passed on others. The picture which did take the public's fancy, 'For a Dream's Sake', was one of the few contributions to the Society of British Artists' exhibitions which the (usually severe) critic of The Athenaeum in April 1899 singled out for commendation. It shows a female figure seated at a table perusing a missive which has, presumably, some reference to an affaire de coeur, since a piece of wedding-cake also appears beside it. In contrast to this, Mastin's 'The End of a Holiday' (1900) introduces a pair of lovers on vacation who have apparently reached an 'understanding' while strolling amid Alpine scenery. In Mastin's time, the every-picture-tells-a-story convention was exploited to excess, and he was evidently fond of it since he used 'The End of a Holiday' as an embellishment for a Christmas card in 1902. But so far as portraiture is concerned, it now seems extraordinary that developments in photography appear to have done very little to diminish the demand for the kind of painting Mastin was so well equipped to produce. Indeed, his progress throws some interesting light on the state of the market for art in general at the turn of the century and afterwards. Mastin's High Street 'practice' was only one of several private painting schools in Sheffield - that of James Moore in St Paul's Parade was also well patroniscd - and as an artist he was in competition with others of equal calibre with himself. But by 1906 he was said to have 'made an independency out of Portrait Painting' which enabled him to 'retire from this branch of Art, and devote himself entirely to Subject Pictures, Book Illustration, and his Literary Work'. The words are those of E. Hodgson Smart, another disciple of Herkomer, who took over Mastin's business and issued a statement accompanied by a testimonial from Mastin. Hodgson Smart's style, he wrote, 'is very much like my own, and his skill and experience such that any commission placed in his hands will be executed in such a manner as to result in an excellent likeness, and a work of high artistic merit'.
Old Silver Plate
The True Analysis of Milk
Parasites Of Insects
Through The Sun In An Airship (published 1909)
The Tinning Of Iron And Steel
The Ancient Mining of Gold, Silver and Precious Stones (two editions, published 1917)
This Work-a-Day World (published 1917)
The Stolen Planet (published 1906)
The Immortal Lights (published 1907)
The Autobiography of a Picture (published 1910)
J. H. Pepper's Boy's Playbook of Science (rewritten and illustrated by J Mastin)
"With one exception - J. H. Pepper's The Boy's Playbook of Science 'revised, re-written and re-illustrated by Dr John Mastin' - Mastin's book illustrations cannot be traced. But the reference to his 'Literary Work' is of great interest. Some time after 1902, his professional ambitions seem to have changed direction, and the next ten years were dominated by the urge to write. From 1906 onwards he produced a book a year (except for 1908) until 1913 - a 'bumper' year which saw the publication of The Ancient Mining of Gold, Silver and Precious Metals (2nd edition) and a novel, This Workaday World. In 1917 he issued an official guide to the City of Sheffield in Burrows's 'Royal Handbook' series. All this is a tribute to Mastin's industriousness, if nothing else. But it is worth recalling that Mastin's adult years coincided with a boom period for aspiring authors, and he was evidently keen to take advantage of this, just as he had aimed to capitalise on his connection with Herkomer. It will be noted that he had a flair for topography and popular science. Such productions as the slim volume on ancient mining show that the process of abstracting and digesting knowledge came easily to Mastin. Some idea of the sort of 'market' he aimed to break into is suggested by The Boy's Playbook of Science, but he was not exclusively concerned to attract juvenile readers: his novels are for the most part scientific romances, and their thematic content has some affinity with the genre associated with such writers as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. In The Stolen Planet (1905), for example, two young friends from 'Derwent' (Sheffield) - 'Jervis Meredith' (John Mastin?) and 'Fraser Burnley' (?) - manage somehow to conquer the force of gravity and visit the outer atmosphere in their spaceship. Incredibly, they manage to conquer the force of gravity so successfully that they are able to harness a satellite and bring it back to earth(!) The effect of this is devastating since the coastal waters all around Britain recede - with appalling results for all those who go down to the sea in ships. Through the Sun in an Airship (1909) is a tale of the distant future and attempts a more philosophical analysis of man's conquest of nature. The Athenaeum regarded Mastin's The Immortal Light (1907) as more daring than Edgar Allan Poe; but in most respects his science fiction is no more distinguished than that contained in the work of many other writers who were publishing on both sides of the Atlantic. But a more orthodox story, The Autobiography of a Picture (1910) can even now be read with conviction, despite its unusual conception and slightly 'period' style. Admittedly, there have been more subtle presentations of the kunstlerleben than this, and Mastin is hardly a match for Henry James, George du Maurier or Emile Zola. All the same, the Autobiography is worthy of analysis if only because it suggests a desire on the author's part to enlarge on his experience of the artistic world of which he was a part.
"Dr. John Mastin, the Principal of the College, occupies a unique position among headmasters, for in addition to holding such high degrees of Doctor of Literature, Doctor of Science, Doctor of Philosophy and Mus. Doc., he is an artist of academical repute, a portrait painter, formerly a member of the Royal Society of British Artists (R.B.A.), now resigned, author of many scientific romances, novels and treatises, and is well-known in the fields of scientific investigation, discovery and research. Nor are his accomplishments confined to the world of art and letters, for in his day Dr. Mastin was a first-class athlete and cricketer and still supervises and takes actual part in the students' games.
"The teaching of science as adapted to commercial requirements is a special feature of the school, as Dr. Mastin believes that only by the scientist can boys be trained to meet the inevitable trade war which looms before the businessman of today and which will become a problem for the next generation to solve. 'For many years past,' said Dr. Mastin to our representative in a recent interview, 'I have been teaching and coaching on these lines, and become more strongly convinced that the future success of British trade and commerce lies in this direction and in this direction alone'.
"One of Dr. Mastin's chief aims is to make the boys feel thoroughly at home, and in this he is ably seconded by Mrs. Mastin, who has personal charge of the whole of the domestic arrangements."
"The narrative of The Autobiography of a Picture is 'told' to us by the portrait of the artist's inamorata, through whose eyes we are enabled to study the character of the painter, Rolf Trafford; as the story unfolds we are treated to insights into the daily life of those who come into the studio and share in their triumphs and tribulations. There is, it has to be agreed, an occasional archness about the mode of utterance adopted by the picture; 'her' expressions of affection for Trafford are tinged with a strain of mawkishness but in most respects the tale rings reasonably true, and some of the characters - Maud, the mendacious servant girl, for instance - would not have been out of place in a novel by George Gissing or Arnold Bennett. What Mastin does is set before us a succession of episodes which illustrate the vicissitudes of an artist's professional life in 'Orchtown', his place of abode. When his picture is exhibited under the auspices of the Orchtown Society of Artists, its evident superiority to the canvasses all around it causes feelings of jealousy to arise in the breasts of Trafford's fellow exhibitors, especially when it becomes known that Trafford has been elected an RA! The back-biting and squabbling among Trafford's rivals may be a reflection of the state of affairs which prevailed in the Sheffield Society of Artists (of which Mastin was Honorary Secretary for some years). It is also possible that the foibles of those who come to seek Rolf Trafford's advice, whether as sitters or potential pupils are derived from the author's experience at Foster's Buildings. Trafford is of course pestered by fussy and charming young ladies of moderate ability who will insist on being initiated into skills they can never hope to master; but he also has to face more insidious requests, such as those which come from the imposter Harker Branson, another local artist who applies for 'lessons', though what he really wants is a helping hand in finishing off a commission which in his hands will not come right! Mastin hits off very well a familiar kind of pseudo-aesthetic small-talk when he makes Branson exclaim of the picture "I don't think I ever saw such a bizarre scheme of colours! What perfect differentiation of parts! With what a wonderful process of evolution the tone is carried upwards! What fine motif!". The other would-be recipients of Rolf Trafford's instruction are simply time-wasting gossips who have 'taken-up' fine art faute de mieux. Of the sitters, perhaps the most interesting is the self-made and self-satisfied philanthropist Sir Robert Spicer - a possible 'crib' from Josiah Bounderby in Dickens's Hard Times. Sir Robert's ingrained philistinism is evident from his dismissive suspicion of anything in the way of 'advanced' ideas; but his brash appeal to the things-aren't-what-they-used-to-be line of argument is placed in perspective by another sitter, Mr. Leybrook, who discloses to Trafford that Sir Robert's wealth has come to him as the result of dubious business dealings. This vision of the unacceptable face of Orchtown plutocracy is underlined by the appearance on the scene of the art-dealer, Martindale Windon, who tries to interest Trafford in the gentle art of faking. It should be easy enough, he points out, for a man of Trafford's ability to favour the trade with a few 'old masters', Windon's firm guaranteeing that no secrets will be given away and a complete cover-up assured in the event of unwelcome suspicions being aroused.
"Vicar's Successful Libel Action - Series of Forged Documents"
"Professor John Mastin of Woodleigh House, Totley Brook, Sheffield, was the defendent in an action for libel at Sheffield yesterday, when a Sheriff's jury awarded £250 damages to the Rev. J. A. Kerfoot, vicar of St. John's, Abbeydale, Sheffield.
Mr. T. E. Ellison explained that the plaintiff had obtained interlocutory judgment against the defendant in the High Court, when the defendant did not enter any defence at all. The defendant was a parishioner of the plaintiff's parish, and was at one time connected with the Bible class there. He appeared to have thought that the vicar had slighted him and started systematically to write letters to the vicar, enclosing copies of anonymous letters which he alleged had been received from various people. The plaintiff, however, had good reason to believe that such letters were concocted by the defendant. The defendant then wrote on the fly-leaf of a Bible a statement as follows:- 'Presented to Prof. John Mastin, M.A., D.Sc., Ph.D., Lit.D., &c., and subscribed for by a few of your admirers in the congregation of the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Abbeydale, near Sheffield, as a mark of esteem and appreciation and loyalty to you for the noble and single-hearted zeal with which you have opposed the injustice and wrong done by our vicar, the Rev. J. A. Kerfoot, B.A., also as a token of our sympathy for you in your long and dangerous illness and of our strong disapproval of the unjust and most un-Christian conduct of Mr. Kerfoot towards you, which conduct we consider unworthy of and degrading in anyone holding so sacred an office as that of vicar of such a parish as this.' This statement was shown to various persons. The defendant also concocted an alleged apology to himself, in which Mr. Kerfoot was made to give the defendant leave to show the letter, or a copy of it, to the Bishop of Southwell. The defendant saw the Bishop of Southwell and produced the document. The Bishop wrote to the vicar for an explanation, and the plaintiff had been forced against his wishes to put himself right with his ecclesiastical superiors, apart from the vindication of his personal character."
(Article courtesy of Chris Hobbs, http://www.chrishobbs.com/)
"All these goings-on the picture of Myra Bryce 'sees' and reports on, with touching sympathy for the situations in which Rolf Trafford becomes involved. The story ends with 'her' expression of satisfaction that 'she' will hang on the wall alongside Trafford's self-portrait; Trafford is shortly to marry Miss Bryce, and it is fitting that the two individuals should stand side by side on canvas as well as in actuality. We may find it difficult to agree with The Art Chronicle when it declared that 'Rolf Trafford is without doubt the most interesting character of an artist ever drawn by a modern novelist' (had the reviewer forgotten Basil Hallward in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorion Gray with his priceless remark: 'You know we poor artists have to show ourselves in society from time to time, just to remind the public that we are not savages!'?) But on the whole, the vehicle Mastin has chosen to convey his message is an ingenious one; the convention he adopts is weakened only by a tendency to dwell too long on the ludicrous solicitations to which the professional artist has to submit, but if we are meant to take this as a satirical commentary on Mastin's own career in Sheffield, The Autobiography of a Picture has a more than ephemeral significance.
"Mastin's other publications indicate that there was in his nature a fairly strong pedagogic impulse; it is even possible that like his revered mentor, Sir Hubert Herkomer, he aspired to found a colony or community of which he himself would he the central and directing spirit. However this may be, an opportunity came his way when, after leaving Sheffield he became, in the words of Who Was Who 1929-1940, 'Proprietor and Principal of Kenyon Hall College' near Leigh in Lancashire. The early history of this establishment (now the headquarturs of the Culcheth Golf Club) is not well documented, though it appears to have been a school in the 1890s. Precisely when John Mastin took it over is not certain, but the date must have been somewhere about 1916. Under his direction the College offered a varied education to boys from the preparatory stage up to first degree level. By way of making clear his credentials in the world of learning, Mastin advertised himself as a DSc, PhD, DMus, etc., and claimed to enjoy membership of several famous societies. He may have been influenced by the necessity of having to make an impression on parents who would not he familiar with his work on the analysis of milk and insect parasites or know that Edward VII accepted copies of The Stolen Planet and The Immortal Light! But Mastin evidently subscribed to the 'spirit of association' since his name appears in the official records of the Linnean Society, the Royal Microscopical Society and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, though some of his other connections cannot be traced. This is unfortunate, as it would be helpful to know something definite about the numerous distinctions attached to his name. How, it may be asked, did he come to be elected 'Honorary Fellow and Professor of Modern and Classical Literature in the University, Washington'? What is known of his acceptance of a similar title from 'The University, Kapurghala, British India'? Despite the praises heaped upon Mastin by some of his contemporaries, it is evident that as a scientist he was not in the same category as such Sheffield worthies as Henry Clifton Sorby and the Rev. W. H. Dallinger; but an obituary in the proceedings of the Linnean Society for 1932-3 reports that 'In 1912 Mastin sent for exhibition at a meeting of our Society two slides of Polycistina found on the coast off Whitby, Yorkshire' and he is credited with other discoveries. Not every British artist can lay claim to active experience as a field naturalist! As headmaster of Kenyon Hall College, Mastin was remembered for his insistence on good discipline and correctness in matters of etiqette, and he took pains to ensure that opportunities for self-improvement and cultivation, both physically and mentally, were placed before his students.
"When John Mastin died at the age of sixty-six, the Sheffield Telegraph spoke of his 'remarkable versatility' and the Linnean Society obituary already quoted declared that 'As a man of science his interests were very wide, leading him to research work in relation to food and drugs, and inventions in connection with painting media, waterproof inks and engineering'. Here again, there is a further parallel with Hubert Herkomer, who experimented with enamel painting in the late 1890s and also contributed to the revival of mezzotinting. It seems clear that for Mastin the career of a studio artist - even with the considerable reputation he establislied at the turn of the century - was not totally fulfilling. His combination of skills cannot easily be matched among the South Yorkshire painters of his generation - he was also, it should be noted, a competent violinist and an amateur composer - and the spirit of inspired courage with which he entered into several fields of cultural activity must surely command a kind of admiration it is difficult to bestow on his less enterprising contemporaries.
In preparing this article, I have been indebted to Mr. Gordon Horner of Bath, and Miss Sue Graves of the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield."
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