Obelisk Art History
The Artists

Mary Beale
Mary brings home the bacon

Mary Beale, The Artists
Portrait of Mary Beale

Mary Beale was a powerhouse. The first English female artist to support her husband and family from her work, Beale’s talent in portraiture was only matched by her business savvy.

Mary started painting alongside her father, who’s membership in the Painter-Stainers’ Company introduced her to the renowned court painter Peter Lely and many of his contemporaries. At 18, Mary married Charles Beale, a color-mixer. Charles stretched many of her canvases, and mixed pigments for work. Later, Charles meticulously recorded Mary’s artistic process, clientele and technique, a rare window into the world of a brilliant woman flourishing in a nearly exclusively male field.

Mary’s career started slowly, painting portraits for her friends and neighbors in Fleet Street. But in 1665, when she was 32, Charles lost his job at the Patent Office and Mary went pro. Since her youth, Mary had cultivated a respected standing among London’s intellectual elite, and when she stepped into full-time portrait painting, these artists, scientists, clergy and noblesse became her eager clientele. Mary painted the noted physician Thomas Sydenham, author of the foundational medical text Observationes Medicae, the politician William Pierrepont, John Lake, Bishop of Chichester, John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury, and John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale. Mary Beale’s catalog became a who’s who of London’s most influential—and she was prolific. In 1677 alone Mary took 83 commissions, and built a large studio with many students, including developing women artists like Keaty Trioche and Sarah Curtis.

As the courtly painting style declined in the 1680s Mary’s work grew less popular, but her impact, and sharp-eyed portraits remain.

Reed Enger, "Mary Beale, Mary brings home the bacon," in Obelisk Art History, Published February 23, 2016; last modified November 06, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/mary-beale/.

Mary Beale was an English Female Artist born on March 26, 1633. Beale contributed to the Baroque movement and died on October 8, 1699.

Bartholomew Beale, in Profile, Mary Beale

Bartholomew Beale, in Profile 1660

Portrait of a Woman with a Black Hood, Mary Beale

Portrait of a Woman with a Black Hood 1660

Charles Beale the Elder, Mary Beale

Charles Beale the Elder 1663

Mary Wither of Andwell, Mary Beale

Mary Wither of Andwell 1670

George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax, Mary Beale

George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax 1674 – 1676

Portrait of a Mathematician, Mary Beale

Portrait of a Mathematician 1680

Portrait of a Physician, Mary Beale

Portrait of a Physician 1680

Portrait of a Youth, Mary Beale

Portrait of a Youth 1680

Portrait of a Young Girl, Mary Beale

Portrait of a Young Girl 1681

Edward Stillingfleet, Mary Beale

Edward Stillingfleet 1690

Portrait of Nell Gwyl, Mary Beale

Portrait of Nell Gwyl 1697

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