Cecilia Beaux (May 1, 1855 – September 7, 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.
Born to Cecilia Kent Leavitt and Jean-Adolphe Beaux, the artist's early life was shaped by her mother's death, just 12 days after her birth. Beaux’s father returned to France, leaving Beaux and her older sister, Aimée, to be raised by relatives. Beaux's early interest in art was encouraged at home and school.
By age 18, Beaux was earning her living through commercial art, making lithographs and painting on china while studying in Philadelphia. She completed her first medal-winning portrait in 1884. In 1888, after rejecting several marriage proposals, Beaux decided to devote herself to portraiture and studied in Europe for 19 months.
Back in Philadelphia, Beaux painted prominent writers, politicians, and other artists. For many years, she taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Beaux’s pictures were widely exhibited in the United States, as well as in Paris and London. She moved to New York in 1898 and also built a summer house in Gloucester, Massachusetts, which became a popular stopping point for her distinguished clientele.
Her reputation hit its peak during the 1930s when she received several major awards, including the Gold Medal at Exposition Universelle, Paris, in 1900; had two retrospective exhibitions; and published her autobiography. In 1933, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt presented Beaux with the Chi Omega fraternity's gold medal, for “the American woman who had made the greatest contribution to the culture of the world.”
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|Cecilia Beaux: A Modern Painter in the Gilded Age
by Alice A. Carter – Hardcover: 224 pages; Rizzoli (Aug 16, 2005)
Author Alice A. Carter expertly traces Cecilia Beaux’s fascinating and unconventional life, from her privileged Philadelphia childhood to her successful penetration into the male-dominated inner circle of the art world of Paris, Philadelphia, and New York. Carter reveals how Beaux’s passion for her work and her headstrong spirit enabled her to achieve professional success unrivaled by any other female artist―and the personal price she paid for it.
Cecilia Beaux: American Figure Painter
by Sylvia Yount , Kevin Sharp, Nina Auerbach, Mark Bockrath – Hardcover: 195 pages; University of California Press; 1st edition (Aug 1, 2007)
While Beaux—unlike her contemporaries John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt—has not fared well in modernist-driven art history, her work has become the subject of renewed interest on the part of art historians, collectors, and general viewers on both sides of the Atlantic, and her forty-year career represents a compelling and under-examined chapter in the history of American art.