Mary Beale was a powerhouse. Known as 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 along side 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 would stretch many of her canvasses, and mix pigments for work. Later, Charles would meticulously record Mary’s artistic process, clientele and technique — giving us 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 stepping into full-time portrait painting, these artists, scientist, clergy and noblesse became her eager clientele.
Mary would paint the noted physician Thomas Sydenham - who wrote the foundational medical text Observationes Medicae, the politician William Pierrepont, John Lake, the Bishop of Chichester, and John Tillotson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and John Maitland (1616–1682), Duke of Lauderdale. Mary Beale’s catalogue became a who’s who of London’s most influential — and she was prolific. In 1677 Mary took 83 commissions, and built her large studio with many students, including women like Keaty Trioche and Sarah Curtis.
As the courtly painting style declined in the 1680’s 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 May 21, 2018, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/mary-beale/.