Circle of Mary Beale (British, 1633-1699) A portrait of the artist, Mary Beale (née Craddock) (1633-1699), wearing pale ochre-coloured dress with white underslip, three pearls on a ribbon about her right shoulder, further pearls across her chest, held at her corsage by a brooch and blue cloak, her light brown hair curled, landscape background
Lot 69*
Circle of Mary Beale (British, 1633-1699) A portrait of the artist, Mary Beale (née Craddock) (1633-1699), wearing pale ochre-coloured dress with white underslip, three pearls on a ribbon about her right shoulder, further pearls across her chest, held at her corsage by a brooch and blue cloak, her light brown hair curled, landscape background
Sold for £22,800 (US$ 36,798) inc. premium

Lot Details
Circle of Mary Beale (British, 1633-1699) A portrait of the artist, Mary Beale (née Craddock) (1633-1699), wearing pale ochre-coloured dress with white underslip, three pearls on a ribbon about her right shoulder, further pearls across her chest, held at her corsage by a brooch and blue cloak, her light brown hair curled, landscape background
Circle of Mary Beale (British, 1633-1699)
A portrait of the artist, Mary Beale (née Craddock) (1633-1699), wearing pale ochre-coloured dress with white underslip, three pearls on a ribbon about her right shoulder, further pearls across her chest, held at her corsage by a brooch and blue cloak, her light brown hair curled, landscape background.
Watercolour on vellum, inscribed on reverse Mrs Mary/ Beale a famous/ woman for Painting/ Lived in the Pall Mall/ Died at ye Age of 70/ years in the year/ 1698/ Painted in 1679, turned ebonised wood frame, the gilt-metal reverse engraved Mrs Mary Beale/ Artist/ Painted by herself.
Oval, 87mm (3 7/16in) high
Provenance: Horace Walpole, Strawberry Hill Sale, 14 May 1842, lot 161 (bought by Burn)
Earls of Derby, Knowsley, Christie's, 8 June 1971, lot 83
Purchased from Asprey & Co Ltd, July 1976
Exhibited: South Kensington Exhibition, 1862, no.2224
South Kensington Exhibition, 1865, no.1915 (as by Samuel Cooper)
"The excellent Mrs. Mary Beale": 13 October-21 December 1975, Geffrye Museum, London, 10 January-21 February 1976, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne (lent by Asprey & Co Ltd)
Literature: J.J. Foster, British Miniature Painters and their work, London, 1898, Appendix A, p.18; Appendix C, p.41
G. Scharf, Knowsley Catalogue, no.220 (as by Samuel Cooper)
J.J. Foster, Samuel Cooper, London, 1914, ill.pl.LXV (as by Samuel Cooper)
The Connoisseur, June 1958, p.46
Basil Long, British Miniaturists, London 1966, p.21
Apollo Magazine, May 1973, p.81
"The excellent Mrs. Mary Beale", Exhibition catalogue, 1975, no.47
Daphne Foskett, Collecting Miniatures, Woodbridge, 1979, p.114, ill.p.109, pl.21D

Footnotes

  • The authorship of the present lot has been the subject of much debate. Despite traditionally being described as a self-portrait, there is no firm evidence that Mary Beale painted in miniature. Her inclusion as a miniature painter is based on letters written by the miniaturist Thomas Flatman (1635-1688) to Charles Beale (1632-1705) (Mary's husband) where he refers to her as his "Scholar" - this has been taken to mean that she instructed him. However there are no references to her painting miniatures in her husband's surviving notebooks. In addition, there are no existing signed miniatures by Beale (one depicting Catherine Sedley previously attributed to Mary Beale and signed MB is now thought to be the work of Lady Margaret Bingham (c.1740–1814)). Given the weight of evidence against Mary Beale having painted in miniature, it is unlikely that the present lot is a self-portrait as previously thought.

    Alternative attributions that have been suggested are Charles Beale (1660-1714) (Mary's son) or Thomas Flatman, however stylistically neither seem wholly convincing, with both these miniaturists tending to work with more thickly applied pigment. Almost certainly painted from life, it can only be attributed with any conviction to a painter within the artistic circle in which Mary and Charles Beale Senior circulated.

    The daughter of a Puritan Suffolk clergyman, Mary Beale was one of very few women artists working in England during the seventeenth century and has been called the first truly professional female artist in Britain. Mary's mother had died when she was about ten years old and her father, an amateur artist, then introduced her to painting. In 1652 she married Charles Beale and in around 1654 they were in London, where Mary embarked on a semi-professional career as a portrait painter. In 1658 she is mentioned in Sir William Sanderson's 'Graphice' or, 'The Use of the Pen and Pensil, in Designing, Drawing, and Painting'.

    In 1670 Mary established a studio in Pall Mall and became friends with Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680). Her husband was her assistant, mixing paint and keeping the 'notebooks' containing details of her accounts and sittings. His notebook of 1677 (in the Bodleian Library) details a busy year: eighty-three commissions that brought in an income of £429. Following Lely's death in 1680, his style of portraiture, which Mary imitated fell out of fashion. Her husband's notebook of 1681 (in the National Portrait Gallery's collection) refers to the family's reduced financial circumstances, ' we had but only 2s.6d. left us in the house against Easter'. In these notebooks, Charles Beale often refers to his wife as 'Dearest Heart'. Mary Beale worked until her death at the age of sixty-six and is buried in St James's, Piccadilly. Her husband died in 1705.
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