Renowned Art
Cecilia Beaux



Cecilia Beaux (May 1, 1855 – September 7, 1942) was an American society portraitist. Her sympathetic representations of American aristocracy made her one of the most successful portrait painters of her era.

Her society portraits have been compared to those of John Singer Sargent.

She was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest daughter of silk manufacturer Jean Adolphe Beaux and teacher and governess Cecilia Kent Leavitt, who died not long after giving birth. Beaux and her sister Etta were subsequently raised by their maternal grandmother and aunts. At the age of sixteen Beaux began art lessons with a relative, Catharine Ann Drinker, then studied for two years with the painter Francis Adolf Van der Wielen. At eighteen she was teaching at Miss Sanford's School, giving private art lessons, and producing decorative art and small portraits. She had also developed skills as a scientific illustrator, creating drawings of fossils for Edward D. Cope. Beaux attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and studied with William Sartain until the early 1880s, when she painted Les derniers jours d'enfance, a portrait of her sister and nephew whose composition revealed a debt to James McNeill Whistler. Its success, first when exhibited in New York and Philadelphia, followed by its entry in the Paris Salon of 1887, encouraged Beaux to study in Paris. There she trained at the Académie Julian and Académie Colarossi, studying with painters Tony Robert-Fleury and William-Adolphe Bouguereau. In the summer of 1888 she worked in Concarneau with the American painters Alexander Harrison and Charles Lasar, during which time she expressed her decision to become a portrait painter.

Returning to America in 1889, Miss Beaux proceeded to paint portraits in the grand manner, taking as her subjects members of her sister's family as well as the elite of Philadelphia. In 1890 she exhibited at the Paris Exposition, obtained in 1893 the gold medal of the Philadelphia Art Club, and also the Dodge prize at the New York National Academy of Design. In 1895 Beaux became the first woman to have a regular teaching position at the Pennsylvania Academy, where she instructed in portrait drawing and painting for the next twenty years. She won the Logan Medal of the arts at the Art Institute of Chicago, and became a member of the National Academy in 1902.

By 1900 the demand for Beaux's work brought clients from Washington, D.C. to Boston, prompting the artist to move to New York City; it was there she spent the winters, while summering at Green Alley, the home and studio she had built in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Among her portraits are those of Georges Clemenceau; Edith Roosevelt and her daughter; and Admiral Sir David Beatty. Her portraits Fanny Travis Cochran, Dorothea and Francesca, and Ernesta and her Little Brother, are fine examples of her skill in painting children. Ernesta with Nurse, one of a series of essays in luminous white, was a highly original composition, seemingly without precedent. Sita and Sarita earned praise from critics in America and France, and eventually entered the collection of the Musée d'Orsay.

Beaux was crippled after breaking her hip while walking in Paris in 1924, and painted little from thereon. In 1930 she published an autobiography, Background with Figures. Her later life was filled with honors. In 1930 she was elected a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters; in 1933 came membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which two years later organized the first major retrospective of her work. Also in 1933 Eleanor Roosevelt honored Beaux as "the American woman who had made the greatest contribution to the culture of the world". In 1942 The National Institute of Arts and Letters awarded her a gold medal for lifetime achievement.

Cecilia Beaux died at Green Valley at the age of eighty-seven, and was buried in Bala-Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.


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