1633 - circa 1699
Mary Beale, Self-Portrait, ca. 1665. Oil on canvas. 43 x 34 1/2 inches (109 x 87.5 cm). Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London, England. (c) National Portrait Gallery, London. www.npg.org.uk
Place of Birth:
British – English
Drawings and prints, Painting
Copyist, Oil Painter, Painter, Pastelist, Portraitist, Watercolorist
Mary Beale is sometimes referred to as the first professional woman artist in Britain. A prime example of gender-role reversals, Beale's husband, Charles, himself an amateur painter, prepared his wife's canvases and paints, purchased supplies, handled accounts, and left extravagantly detailed notebooks about his wife’s daily activities while Beale supported the family with the income earned from her commissions.
Born into a wealthy Puritan family, Beale made important art connections through her father, an amateur painter. Beale married Charles in 1652, and moved to London soon afterwards. Upon the failure of her husband to maintain regular employment, it was evident that Mary would support her family as a full-time portrait painter. Her two sons, Charles and Bartholemew assisted their mother in her studio by painting drapery and backgrounds. By the late 1650s, Beale had developed a solid reputation and befriended Sir Peter Lely, court painter to Charles II. Beale observed Lely in his studio—a rare privilege—and copied many of his portraits, modeling her technique after Lely’s Court Style—bust portraits somewhat generic in composition, palette, and facial expression, but charmingly refined nonetheless. Beale was immensely prolific, and reached the peak of her success in 1677 when she obtained eighty-three commissions, each earning a considerable sum. Her clientele included her immediate circle of friends, nobility, landed gentry, and clergymen. In 1681, Beale is known to have had two pupils in her studio—Keaty Trioche and Mr. More. Ten years later, her assistant was Sarah Curtis, a young artist who later pursued her own painting career.
Despite her popularity, Beale and her husband continued to incur financial problems, heightened by Charles’ overly eager purchasing of supplies and artwork and the necessity of hosting their many guests and patrons. In her later years, Beale experimented with cheaper supports for her paintings including onion bags, sacking, and bed-ticking. Charles kept careful notes of the preparation and outcome of the different supports and primers. With the diminishing popularity of the Court Style, however, Beale’s commissions steadily decreased. By the 1680s, Beale averaged only thirty-nine commissions per year and spent her additional time creating smaller works for study and improvement.
Place(s) of Residence:
Related Visual Artists:
daughter and student of John Cradock
mother of Charles Beale
mother of Bartholemew Beale
teacher of Sarah Curtis
teacher of Keaty Trioche
teacher of Mr. More
friend of Sir Peter Lely
friend of Robert Walker
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art, 1987-1997
The Excellent Mrs. Mary Beale, Geffry Museum, London, England (1975)
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