A 19thC Plaster Death Mask of George Stafford Wright (1864-1870)

Origin: English
Period: Victorian
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1870
Height: 8 inches
Width: 6.5 inches
Box: 11.25 x 9.5 inches

The life size thick plaster moulded death mask of George Stafford Wright (known as Stafford), son of G.T. and Francis Anna Maria Wright, Born on the 13th April 1864, Died 18th January 1870, buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London is presented in a square hinged pine box.

In original condition the mask does not suffer from any chips or cracks and as such, thankfully, is presented in superb overall order. The boxes lining is tatty but the pine is probably late nineteenth century and was possibly made for the specific housing of the mask. The piece has not got any hooks for wall mounting as such but could be added if so desired.

The Wright family were landowners and owners of Longstone Hall, Derbyshire. They also owned Eyam Hall and its surrounding estate and both these estates have passed through succeeding generations of the Wright family from the 17th century to the present day. The Great Longstone estate passed through six generations of the family, until the childless deaths of Thomas Wright of Great Longstone (1755-1770) and his great-uncle Colonel William Wright (died 1771). In 1771 the entire Great Longstone and Eyam estate was reunited in the hands of John Wright (1700-1780).

The estate was inherited by John's eldest surviving son Captain Robert Wright (1731-1803) and then by Robert's eldest son John Thomas Wright (died 1838). In the early 19th century the Wright family lands again split between an Eyam branch and the Great Longstone branch. George Thomas Wright of Great Longstone died in 1907 and was succeeded by his son Walter Herbert Wright (1869-1926). Longstone Hall was sold by the family in 1929.

George Stafford Wright was baptized at Holy Trinity in Paddington, London on the 11th of May, 1864, about a month after his birth on the 13th April 1864. His death at six years old in 1870 must have been a heartbreaking day and we have been unable to understand how and why he died prematurely. The mask shows this calm and serene young man at peace with his memory beautifully upheld.

Death masks are an impression or cast of the face of a deceased person, usually made by oiling the skin and taking a plaster cast of the features, and are the most haunting mementos of the deceased. They have been in existence since the time of Tutankhamun, whose solid gold burial mask is an object of extreme beauty and superstition. Such masks could be used either in a funerary effigy or as a model for a posthumous portrait. It was important that a death mask was made as soon as possible after death so that the character of the deceased was captured before the features started to fall. Infant, child or baby masks are far more scarce than adult examples and this particular mask is similar to the historic death bust of the first baby in the world delivered with the use of ether anaesthetic by James Young Simpson in 1847.

This is a terribly sad but very eminent object in so much as it is of paramount importance to keep this young boys memory alive as was wished when the mask was cast. It represents, arguably, art at its highest level, and as Vincent Van Gogh once said “There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.”