Académie Julian, Passage des Panoramas, Paris, France
Académie Colarossi, 10 Rue de la Grande Chaumière, 75006 Paris, France
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), 118-128 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
83 Eastern Point Blvd, Gloucester, MA 01930
West Laurel Hill Cemetery, 225 Belmont Ave, Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004
Cecilia Beaux (May 1, 1855 – September 17, 1942) was an American society portraitist, in the manner of John Singer Sargent. She was a near-contemporary of American artist Mary Cassatt and also received her training in Philadelphia and France. Her sympathetic renderings of the American ruling class made her one of the most successful portrait painters of her era.
By 1906, Beaux began to live year-round at Green Alley, in a comfortable colony of "cottages" belonging to her wealthy friends and neighbors. All three aunts had died and she needed an emotional break from Philadelphia and New York. She managed to find new subjects for portraiture, working in the mornings and enjoying a leisurely life the rest of the time. She carefully regulated her energy and her activities to maintain a productive output, and considered that a key to her success. On why so few women succeeded in art as she did, she stated, "Strength is the stumbling block. They (women) are sometimes unable to stand the hard work of it day in and day out. They become tired and cannot reenergize themselves."
Cecilia Beaux spent summers at her Gloucester home, Green Alley, where she enjoyed hosting evening gatherings of her neighbors. She never married. "Faithful in attendance were Harry Sleeper and Piatt Andrew, whose brilliancy of repartee has never been excelled, according to one observer.
While Beaux stuck to her portraits of the elite, American art was advancing into urban and social subject matter, led by artists such as Robert Henri who espoused a totally different aesthetic, "Work with great speed..Have your energies alert, up and active. Do it all in one sitting if you can. In one minute if you can. There is no use delaying…Stop studying water pitchers and bananas and paint everyday life." He advised his students, among them Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent, to live with the common man and paint the common man, in total opposition to Cecilia Beaux's artistic methods and subjects. The clash of Henri and William Merritt Chase (representing Beaux and the traditional art establishment) resulted in 1907 in the independent exhibition by the urban realists known as "The Eight" or the Ashcan School. Beaux and her art friends defended the old order, and many thought (and hoped) the new movement to be a passing fad, but it turned out to be a revolutionary turn in American art.
Cecilia Beaux (top right), A. Piatt Andrew (lower left) and Henry Davis Sleeper (second from left)
In 1910, her beloved Uncle Willie died. Though devastated by the loss, at fifty-five years of age, Beaux remained highly productive. In the next five years she painted almost 25 percent of her lifetime output and received a steady stream of honors. She had a major exhibition of 35 paintings at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in 1912. Despite her continuing production and accolades, however, Beaux was working against the current of tastes and trends in art. The famed "Armory Show" of 1913 in New York City was a landmark presentation of 1,200 paintings showcasing Modernism. Beaux believed that the public, initially of mixed opinion about the "new" art, would ultimately reject it and return its favor to the Pre-Impressionists.
Beaux was crippled after breaking her hip while walking in Paris in 1924. With her health impaired, her work output dwindled for the remainder of her life. That same year Beaux was asked to produce a self-portrait for the Medici collection in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. 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 the age of 87 on September 17, 1942, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She was buried in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. In her will she devised that a Duncan Phyfe rosewood secretaire made for her father go to her cherished nephew Cecil Kent Drinker, a Harvard physician, whom she had painted as a young boy.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE