Today’s little history is about a female American artist named Cecilia Beaux, who lived from 1855-1942. Cecilia Beaux painted beautiful realistic portraits of prominent people in New York and Philadelphia society. She never married, choosing rather to dedicate her time to art and painting portraits.
Cecilia never knew her mother who died 12 days after giving birth to her. Cecilia’s father was so distraught over his wife’s death that he returned to France without his two daughters Cecilia and her older sister Aimee. They were left to be raised by relatives who were supportive of the two girl’s pursuits. Cecilia stated that her Uncle Willie was the biggest influence in her life and in developing her artistic talents. Her Aunt was an example of female independence and gave piano lessons for pay to help support the household.
Cecilia began her art studies at the age of 16 years old in New York City and Philadelphia. She opened an art studio in 1883 in Philadelphia, traveled to Europe and Paris in 1888-89 and studied art while there. When she returned to Philadelphia she earned a reputation as one of Philadelphia’s best portrait painters. In 1895 she became the first woman instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
In 1900 she moved to New York and obtained commissions for a series of portraits including Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and her daughter. The list of commissions includes other prominent people of that time.
Cecilia started her art career by painting faces of children on unfired porcelain plates. To make money she did detailed drawings of fossils and shells for paleontologist E.D. Cope. This was a paying job only. She disliked portraying anything except people and an occasional cat.
Quote: “A perfect technique in anything only means that there has been no break in continuity between conception, or thought, and the act of performance.”
Quote: “Line is line, space is space- wherever found. The consideration of them is necessary to every work of art, and no such work can exist without them.”
New England Woman is probably my favorite of Cecilia Beaux’s paintings. I like the informality of the room and sitter. It feels as if you are part of the painting, waiting for the news that has just come, in the form of a letter. Who is the letter from? What did they have to say that causes the woman to look off dreamily. I love the use of subtle colors playing in the whites in the woman’s gown and the surroundings.
Cecilia Beaux lived in a time when there weren’t many successful female artists. She was able to succeed despite this. She was able to prove her worth in doing portraiture, what she loved doing most. She was a leader in showing women that doing what you love as your life’s work can be done. She worked hard for what she wanted. She is an example and inspiration for women even now.
You can view a display of Cecilia Beaux’s artwork at http://www.pafa.org/museum/collection, PAFA Museum (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts).
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