"Portrait of Laurence Hutton, 1884" by Dora Wheeler Keith (Princeton University Art Museum, PP101)
"Portrait of Laurence Hutton, 1884" by Dora Wheeler Keith (Princeton University Art Museum, PP101)

Welcome to the digital portal for the Laurence Hutton Collection of Life and Death Masks.

Donated by late 19th century American essayist and theater critic Laurence Hutton, this collection of 104 plaster casts is an oddity and a curiosity, with the more ghoulish examples poking at the boundaries of the uncanny valley and inspiring shivers. Beyond their eerie qualities, the masks also act as 3D portraits, speaking to Victorian relationships with celebrity, death, determinism and phrenology.

Here you will find a complete list of Princeton’s masks with photographs and identifying information; a history of the collection itself; a brief bibliography; and information on discovering the masks in the catalog, requesting them to the reading room and visiting Princeton Special Collections.

The value of a plaster cast as a portrait of the dead or living face cannot for a moment be questioned. It must of necessity be absolutely true to nature. It cannot flatter; it cannot caricature. It shows the subject as he was, or is, not only as other saw him, in the actual flesh, but as he saw himself. And in the case of the death-mask particularly, it show the subject often as he permitted no one but himself to see himself. He does not pose; he does not ‘try to look pleasant.’ In his mask he is seen, as it were, with his mask off

"A Collection of Death Masks" by Laurence Hutton (Harper's Monthly Magazine, 1893).

Please note that some of the materials featured on this site may include images, themes or words that include harmful, offensive, distressing, or inappropriate images or language. Please see the Library's Statement on Harmful Content for more information on the decision to hold these items.