Cecilia Beaux

“Miss Beaux is not only the greatest woman painter, but the best that has ever lived.”
―William Merritt Chase, 1899

Cecelia Beaux (1855-1942) was born in Philadelphia and began taking drawing lessons at sixteen from Catherine Ann Drinker.  She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1877-1879 and later returned to teach there, when she was studying at PAFA the painter Thomas Eakins was teaching at the school.   

Dorothea and Francesca, Cecilia Beaux, 1898, Art Institute of Chicago

In 1888 Beaux made the first of several trips to Europe and in France she worked at the Académie Juilen under the artist Bouguereau.  Her father was French and the work that she saw in Europe and especially in France, both Old Masters and the new Impressionist style, strongly affected her own work.   An example of her loose brushwork and interest in light and color can be seen in the work above, Dorothea and Francesca, which is a double portrait of the daughters of a patron.  The girls are posed unconventionally, while they practice dancing and their white dress and sash are filled with a variety of colors that add highlights and shadows.

Ernesta (Child with Nurse), Cecilia Beaux, 1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Beaux's painting above of her two year old niece, Ernesta Drinker, also shows the influence of the French Impressionists and other American painters working in Paris such as Mary Cassatt.  In addition to a similar brushwork and use of color as in Dorothea and Francesca, Beaux's unusual portrait crops the second subject in a way reminiscent of the work of Degas.  This painting was one of several that was shown in the French annual Salon of 1896.

By 1900 Cecilia Beaux was living in New York and was a well-established portrait painter, she was commissioned to paint many well known individuals.  Along with John Singer Sargent, Beaux is known as one of the most important American portrait painters of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Henry Sturgis Drinker (Manwith the Cat) Cecelia Beaux, 1898,  Smithsonian American Art Museum

The sitter for this portrait, Henry Sturgis Drinker, was Beaux's brother-in-law (Ernesta's father), a railroad executive and president of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. 

According to the exhibition label of this work at the  Smithsonian American Art Museum:

“Beaux was a fiercely independent woman who lived well, kept handsome lovers, and had a will of iron. At a time when few women could, she carved out a career for herself as a portraitist, and was thought to rival John Singer Sargent.” 

During her lifetime Beaux had fourteen one-woman shows and won numerous prizes, she was the first female artist to teach at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.