About the Artist
Cecilia Beaux was an American Impressionist painter, known for her portraits, done with great technical skill and sensitive observation of her subjects.
Early Life and Education
Cecilia Beaux was born in Philadelphia in 1855. Her mother died twelve days after giving birth, at age 33. Beaux’s father, French silk manufacturer, Jean Adolph Beaux, returned to France after his wife’s death. He left Beaux, and her older sister, Aimee, in the care of their maternal grandmother and aunts. Beaux had little contact with her father during her lifetime.
Although her father offered little financial, or emotional, support, Beaux lived a relatively life, even through the challenging Civil War years.
In 1871, when she was sixteen, she took art lessons from Catherine Ann Drinker, an artist and distant relative, who became the first woman to teach at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. After a year of lessons with Drinker, Beaux studied for two years with Drinker’s teacher, Dutch artist Francis Adolf Van der Wielen, at his school for women. Van der Weilen taught basic techniques at a time when women were not permitted to attend drawing classes with live models.
At age eighteen, Beaux took over Dinker’s teaching post at a private school, gave private art lessons and began to paint small portraits. Sho also learned lithography while working for Thomas Sinclair, a printer in Phliadelphia.
After several years of working on her own, Beaux enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and took portrait and costume painting classes for three years, then studied privately, for two years, with portrait artist William Sartain.
Beaux rented a studio and began to work on her own. Her first exhibited painting, at the Pennsylvania Academy, in 1885, was Les derniers jours d’ enfance, a portrait of her sister and nephew. The painting received the Mary Smith Prize for the best work by a local woman and was accepted into the 1887 Paris Salon, which marked a turning point in her career. Beaux painted over fifty portraits in the next three years, but felt that she wanted more training.
After two years of study in Paris at the Academie Julian, Beaux returned to Philadelphia. She became the first woman to have a regular teaching position at the Pennsylvania Academy.
Beaux moved to New York in 1900, where she did commissions for clients who traveled from other cities to have their portraits done. She spent summers in a home and studio that she had built in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
In 1919, Beaux was commissioned to serve as the official portraitist for the United States War Portraits Commission.
Beaux broke her hip during a trip to Paris in 1924. She slowed her pace after being injured, but continued to work. Beaux never married nor had children.
Beaux died in 1947, at the age of 87, in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
In 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt credited Beaux as being, “the American woman who had made the greatest contribution to the culture of the world.
Beaux was elected a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
In 1930, Beaux wrote her autobiography called Background with Figures.
Beaux’s works are part of the permanent collections of major museums worldwide. A collection of her papers are part of the Smithsonian Archives of Art American Art.
Cecilia Beaux Self Portrait 1925
Cecilia Beaux Les derniers jours d’ enfance 1883
Cecilia Beaux Half Tide, Annisquam River 1905