Mary Beale

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Mary Beale
Mary beale self portrait.JPG
Mary Beale, Self-portrait
Mary Cradock

Late March 1633
Died8 October 1699(1699-10-08) (aged 66)
Resting place St James's Church, Piccadilly
Known for Portrait painting
Spouse(s)Charles Beale

Mary Beale (néeCradock; late March 1633 – 8 October 1699) was one of the most successful professional female Baroque-era portrait painters of the late 17th century due to her perseverance of her business. Praised by Richard Gibson and court painter Peter Lely, she is considered as successful as Joan Carlile.[ citation needed ] Mary Beale managed to be the financial provider for her family through her professional portrait business. Her book Observations, though never officially published, was one of the first instructional books ever written by a woman, and boldly announced her authority on painting. Mary Beale stood apart from other women due to her outspokenness and successful business that allowed her to be the breadwinner of the family.


Early life

Mary Cradock was born in the rectory of Barrow, Suffolk [1] , in late March 1633. [2] :393 She was baptised on 26 March by her father John Cradock in All Saints Church in the village. [3] Her mother was Dorothy; her maiden name is illegible on her marriage record to John Cradock.[ citation needed ] Aside from being a rector, John Cradock was also an amateur painter, who may have taught Mary how to paint. It was common for fathers to teach their daughters how to paint at the time [ citation needed ]. Growing up in Barrow, Mary lived close to Bury St Edmunds. A group of painters worked in Bury St Edmunds, including Peter Lely and Matthew Snelling, whom Mary may have met in her youth. On 23 August 1643, John and Dorothy Cradock gave birth to a son named John. Dorothy died not long after the birth. During the Civil War, John Cradock appointed Walter Cradock, a distant cousin of his, as guardian of his children John and Mary. [4]

Mary Cradock met Charles Beale (1632-1705), a cloth merchant who was also an amateur painter, during a visit to the Heighams of Wickhambrook, who were related to the Yelverton and Beale families.[ citation needed ] Charles Beale wrote her a passionate love letter and poem on 25 July of an unknown year. Mary Cradock married Charles Beale on 8 March 1652 at the age of eighteen. [5] Her father, John Cradock, was gravely ill at the time and died a few days after Mary's marriage. The couple moved to Walton-on-Thames at some point afterward. [6] Charles Beale was a Civil Service Clerk at the time, but eventually became Mary's studio manager once she became a professional painter. [2] :390 At some point, Charles was working for the Board of Green Cloth where he mixed colour pigments. [7] Circa 1660-64 the family moved to Albrook, (now Allbrook), Otterbourne, Hampshire, to escape the plague. [8] Throughout their marriage, Mary and Charles worked together as equals and as business partners, which was not often seen at the time. [9] On 18 October 1654 Charles and Mary's first son, Bartholomew, was buried. Little else is known about their first son. Their second son was baptised on 14 February 1655/6 and also named Bartholomew. [10] Their third son Charles was born in 1660. [11]

Her husband, the painter Charles Beale the Elder, by Mary Beale Charles Beale the Elder by Mary Beale.jpg
Her husband, the painter Charles Beale the Elder, by Mary Beale

A professional businesswoman

The most common way to learn how to paint at the time was to copy great works and masterpieces that were accessible.[ citation needed ] Mary Beale preferred to paint in oil and water colours.[ citation needed ] Whenever she did a drawing, she would draw in crayon.[ citation needed ] Peter Lely, who succeeded Anthony van Dyck as the court painter, took a great interest in Mary's progress as an artist, especially since she would practice painting by imitating some of his work. [12] Mary Beale started working by painting favours for people she knew in exchange for small gifts or favors. [2] :392 Charles Beale kept close record of everything Mary did as an artist. He would take notes on how she painted, what business transactions took place, who came to visit, and what praise she would receive. Charles wrote thirty notebooks' worth of observations over the years, calling Mary "my dearest heart". [13] She became a semi-professional portrait painter in the 1650s and 1660s, working from her home, first in Covent Garden and later in Fleet Street in London. [14] When living in Convent Garden, Beale was a near neighbor to artist Joan Carlile. [15]


In 1663, Mary Beale published Observations. It is a non-published piece of instructional writing that starts by critiquing how to paint apricots. Observations also shows a good partnership and collaboration effort between Mary and Charles. It boldly declared Mary Beale as an artist to remember. Mary Beale also wrote a manuscript called Discourse on Friendship in 1666 and four poems in 1667. [2] :392

The business of painting

The key for a female to become a successful professional painter was to earn a good reputation.[ original research? ] Mary's father, an amateur artist, funded her general education may have including courses in painting and drawing. [2] It could be easy to misconstrue strangers entering a woman's home for a business transaction as something that would portray the woman in an impure light.[ original research? ] Once Mary did start painting for money in the 1670s, she carefully picked whom she would paint, and used the praise of her circle of friends to build a good reputation as a painter. [2] :392 Some of these people included Queen Henrietta Maria and John Tillotson, a clergyman from St James' Church, a close friend of Mary Beale who eventually became the Archbishop of Canterbury. It may be due to Mary's father, John, who was a rector, or her close connection to Tillotson that kept the clergymen of St James' as consistent customers.{original research} Mary's connection to Tillotson as well as her strong Puritan marriage to Charles worked in her favour in building up her good reputation. [16] Mary Beale typically charged five pounds for a painting of a head and ten pounds for half of a body for oil paintings. She made about two hundred pounds a year and gave ten per cent of her earnings to charity. This income was enough to support her family, and she did so. [17] Needless to say, it is truly remarkable that Mary Beale was responsible for being the breadwinner of the family. [18] By 1681 Mary's commissions were beginning to diminish. [8]

In 1681, Mary Beale took on two students, Keaty Trioche and Mr. More, who worked with her in the studio. In 1691, Sarah Curtis from Yorkshire became another student of Mary's. Sarah had similar behaviours and dispositions as Mary. [19] Mary Beale died on 8 October 1699. Her death was mistaken for the death of Mary Beadle, whose recorded death is on 28 December 1697. [20] Not much is known about her death besides that she died in a house on Pall Mall and was buried under the communion table of St James's Church, Piccadilly on 8 October 1699. [21] Her tomb was destroyed by enemy bombs during the Second World War. A memorial to her lies within the church.

A memorial to Mary Beale in St James's Church, Piccadilly. A memorial to Mary Beale in St James's Church, Piccadilly.jpg
A memorial to Mary Beale in St James's Church, Piccadilly.
Her son Bartholomew Beale (1656-1709), by Sir Peter Lely, circa 1670 Bartholomew Beale by Peter Lely.jpg
Her son Bartholomew Beale (1656–1709), by Sir Peter Lely, circa 1670

The Beale children

Charles and Bartholomew Beale helped with work in the studio in their youth, where they painted draperies and sculpted ovals; these ovals were a critical piece in Mary Beale's head portraits. Young Charles Beale, the third son and named after his father, showed great talent in painting and went to study miniature painting on 5 March 1677. He enjoyed painting miniature sculptures from 1679 to 1688, when his eyesight started to fail him. From then on, he worked on full scale portraits. Bartholomew Beale, the second son, started with painting but instead turned to medicine. In 1680, he studied at Clare Hall, Cambridge and graduated MB in 1682. Bartholomew set up his medical practice on a small property in Coventry, which his father owned. [19]

Praise and criticism

Mary Beale's paintings are often described as "vigorous" and "masculine". (It was common to praise a woman for her work by calling her "masculine".) The colour is seen as pure, sweet, natural, clear and fresh, although some critics see her colouring as "heavy and stiff". Due to copying Italian masterpieces as practice, Mary Beale is said to have acquired "an Italian air and style". Not too many could compete with her "colour, strength, force, or life". Sir Peter Lely admired Beale's work, saying she "worked with a wonderful body of colour, and was exceedingly industrious." Others criticise her work as weak in expression and finish with disagreeable colours and poorly rendered hands. [22] It is sometimes described as "scratchy" with a "limited colour palette" and too closely imitates the work of Lely.

Some of her work can be found on display in the Geffrye Museum in London, [23] though the largest public collection can be found at Moyse's Hall museum, [24] Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Beale was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Geffrye Museum in 1975, which transferred to the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne the following year. [25]

See also


  1. Phaidon Editors (2019). Great women artists. Phaidon Press. p. 54. ISBN   978-0714878775.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Draper, Helen (October 2012). "'Her Painting of Apricots': The Invisibility of Mary Beale (1633–1699)". Forum for Modern Language Studies. 48 (4): 389–405. doi:10.1093/fmls/cqs023.
  3. "Mary Beale". Suffolk Artists.
  4. Beale, Mary; Walsh, Elizabeth; Jeffree, Richard; Sword, Richard (1975). Citation Title: "The excellent Mrs. Mary Beale" : 13 October-21 December 1975, Geffrye Museum, London, 10 January-21 February 1976, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne : catalogue / by Elizabeth Walsh and Richard Jeffree ; with introd. by Sir Oliver Millar ; and special contributions by Margaret Toynbee and Richard Sword ; exhibition designed by Richard Sword. London: Inner London Education Authority. p. 9. ISBN   978-0708500071.
  5. "Suffolk Artists - BEALE, Mary". Retrieved 29 February 2020.
  6. Jeffree, Richard; Beale, Mary; Walsh, Elizabeth; Sword, Richard (1975). The Excellent Mrs. Mary Beale. London: Inner London Education Authority. p. 10. ISBN   978-0708500071.
  7. Clayton, Ellen C. (1876). English Female Artists. London: Tinsley Bros. p. 42. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
  8. 1 2 Bonhams Portrait of Charles Beale (1632-1705). Url visited on June 20, 2018
  9. Millar, Oliver (January 2000). "Mary Beale. London". The Burlington Magazine. 142 (1162): 48–49. JSTOR   888781.
  10. Beale, Mary; Walsh, Elizabeth; Jeffree, Richard; Sword, Richard (1975). The Excellent Mrs. Mary Beale. London: Inner London Education Authority. p. 11. ISBN   978-0708500071.
  11. Clayton, Ellen C. (1876). "English Female Artists". London: Tinsley Bros: 41. Retrieved 12 May 2016.
  12. Clayton, Ellen C. (1876). English Female Artists. London: Tinsley Bros. p. 42.
  13. Clayton, Ellen C (1876). English Female Artists. London: Tinsley Bros. pp.  46.
  14. "Mary Beale | National Museum of Women in the Arts". Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  15. Toynbee, Margaret; Isham, Gyles (1954). "Joan Carlile (1606?-1679) - An Identification". The Burlington Magazine. 96 (618): 275–274. ISSN   0007-6287.
  16. Clayton, Ellen C (1876). English Female Artists. London: Tinsley Bros. pp.  44.
  17. Clayton, Ellen C. (1876). English Female Artists. London: Tinsley Bros. pp.  45–46.
  18. Mary, Beale; Walsh, Elizabeth; Jeffree, Richard; Sword, Richard (1975). The Excellent Mrs. Mary Beale. London: Inner London Education Authority. p. 3. ISBN   978-0708500071.
  19. 1 2 Beale, Mary; Walsh, Elizabeth; Jeffree, Richard; Sword, Richard (1975). The Excellent Mrs. Mary Beale. London: Inner London Education Authority. p. 15. ISBN   978-0708500071.
  20. Walsh, Elizabeth (July 1948). "Mary Beale". The Burlington Magazine. 90 (544): 209. JSTOR   869707.
  21. Clayton, Ellen C. (1876). English Female Artists. London: Tinsley Bros. pp.  52.
  22. Clayton, Ellen C. (1876). English Female Artists. London: Tinsley Bros. pp.  43.
  23. Millar, Oliver (January 2012). "Mary Beale. London". The Burlington Magazine. 142 (1162): 48–49. JSTOR   888781.
  24. Dugdall, Ruth. "On the trail of Suffolk artist Mary Beale". Suffolk Magazine. East Anglia Daily Times. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
  25. Exhibition catalogue The Excellent Mrs Beale


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