Mary Beale

English, 1632-1697

Mary is represented alongside images of her husband and one of her two sons, Charles. These are fitting additions to her portrait as her career integrated artistic accomplishment and the involvement of her family. From a father who insisted that his daughter have an excellent education to a husband who eventually quit his job to manage her career, Mary’s painting was facilitated and encouraged by family and friends. Like many professional women today Mary was greatly supported and promoted by her husband; he worked as the administrator of her studio and also managed the public relations of her career. Mary was the first woman artist in England to set up a shop and create a small business of portrait painting. Her hard work and skill and his charm and excellent record-keeping, resulted in an organized shop that included students, assistants, and many clients.

As a woman in 17th-century England, Mary’s introduction to the medium of oil painting was limited, but ongoing sincere encouragement from her social circle provided her with commissions and opportunities for more extensive training. Through these social connections she was able to study with Peter Lely, the court painter to Charles II, who allowed both Mary and her husband to watch him work.  Combining skill, business sense, and social networking, Mary oversaw a thriving portrait business in Puritan England where she and her husband often opened their home for sitters who were also considered guests. The image of Mary in Jane’s painting engages the viewer and this personable interaction was an integral part of Mary’s success. The charismatic gaze with which Mary greets us accurately represents a woman who was known as a deft painter, an astute businesswoman, and an intellectual.

Christopher Reeve, Mrs. Mary Beale, Paintress, 1633-1699 (Bury St. Edmunds: Manor House Museum, 1994) 4-6.

Ibid 5.

Elizabeth Walsh and Richard Jeffree, The Excellent Mrs. Mary Beale (London: Geffrye Museum, 1975) 12.

Original Works Referenced

Mary Beale with her Husband and Son
c. 1663-1664
Geffrye Museum