Mary Beale

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Mary Beale, Self-portrait
Her son Bartholomew Beale (1656-1709), by Sir Peter Lely, circa 1670
Her husband, the painter Charles Beale the Elder, by Mary Beale

Mary Beale (née Cradock; 26 March 1633 – 1699) was an English portrait painter. She became one of the most important portrait painters of 17th-century England, and has been described as the first professional female English painter.

Life and work[edit]

Beale was born in Barrow, Suffolk, the daughter of John Cradock, a Puritan rector. Her mother, Dorothy, died when she was ten. Her father was an amateur painter, and member of the Painter-Stainers' Company, and she was acquainted with local artists, such as Nathaniel Thach, Matthew Snelling, Robert Walker and Peter Lely. In 1652, at the age of eighteen, she married Charles Beale, a cloth merchant from London – also an amateur painter.

She became a semi-professional portrait painter in the 1650s and 1660s, working from her home, first in Covent Garden and later in Fleet Street.

The family moved to a farmhouse in Allbrook, Hampshire in 1665 due to financial difficulties, her husband having lost his position as a patent clerk, and also due to the Great Plague of London. For the next five years, a 17th-century two storey timber-framed building was her family home and studio. She returned to London in 1670, where she established a studio in Pall Mall, with her husband working as her assistant, mixing her paints and keeping her accounts. She became successful, and her circle of friends included Thomas Flatman, poet Samuel Woodford, the Archbishop of Canterbury John Tillotson, and Bishops Edward Stillingfleet and Gilbert Burnet. She became reacquainted with Peter Lely, now Court Artist to Charles II. Her later work is heavily influenced by Lely, being mainly small portraits or copies of Lely's work. Her work became unfashionable after his death in 1680.

Mary Beale died in 1699 in Pall Mall, and was buried at St. James's, Piccadilly in London. Her husband died in 1705. Of their children, a son, Bartholomew, died young. A second son, also called Bartholomew, painted portraits before taking up medicine. A third son, named Charles after his father, was also a painter, specialising mainly in miniatures.

Her portrait of Rachel Carew smiling so impressed Daphne du Maurier whilst at Antony House Plymouth that it formed an inspiration for her novel My Cousin Rachel.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reeve, Christopher (1994). Mrs. Mary Beale, Paintress 1633-1699. Bury St Edmunds: St Edmundsbury Borough Council. OCLC 54264076. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Barber, Tabitha. Mary Beale (1632/3-1699): Portrait of a seventeenth-century painter, her family and her studio (Geffrye Museum Trust, 1999)

External links[edit]