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 Mary Beale  (1633 - 1699)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom      Known for: portrait, figure painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Mrs. Mary Beale (1633-1699)

Born Mary Cradock at Barrow rectory, Suffolk, and baptised on 26 March 1633, the elder of two children of the Revd John Cradock (c.1595–1652), puritan rector of Barrow, and his wife, Dorothy née Brunton or Brinton (d.1643).  She received a good education from her father who, as an amateur artist, probably also provided her with tuition in painting.
She married on 8 March 1652 Charles Beale (1631-1705), member of a puritan family at Walton Manor, Buckinghamshire.  They took up residence at Covent Garden, London, later moving to Hind Court, Fleet Street, and about 1660 Charles succeeded his father as deputy clerk of the patents office.  By this time Mary Beale had gained some reputation as an artist and had given birth to two sons, Bartholomew (1656-1709) and Charles (1660-1726), who himself was an artist.  By 1664 Charles Beale's job had become insecure and, with the plague threatening, the family departed for Albrook, Otterbourne, Hampshire.  At Albrook Mary wrote the Essay on Friendship in which she propounds the somewhat then radical notion of equality between men and women, both in friendship and marriage.  This was put into practice on their return to the city in 1670 when it was decided that she would establish herself as a professional artist and she set up a studio in their rented house in Pall Mall.  She attracted a wide clientele from among the gentry and aristocracy and from their own circle of friends, who included fellows of the Royal Society and puritan clergy, notably the future bishops Stillingfleet and Tillotson.  Her prices were competitive: £10 for a three-quarter-length and £5 for a half-length portrait and she also painted miniatures.  Mary Beale's sons assisted her with the painting of draperies and later she was able to train and employ female studio assistants.  Meanwhile Charles Beale assumed responsibility for organizing the commissions and payments and preparing artists' colours.  In 1671 Mary Beale's income totalled £118 5s., rising to £429 by 1677 which was perhaps her most prosperous year.

Of great assistance to Mary Beale's career was the friendship and support of Sir Peter Lely, the court painter.  By 1672 Lely had visited her studio and later allowed her to study his painting techniques when she was able to build up a lucrative trade from making replicas of his portraits.  By 1681 Mary’s commissions were beginning to diminish but she busied herself with producing pictures for ‘study and improvement’.  These informal studies are among her finest works.

 Mary Beale died at her home next to the Golden Ball, Pall Mall in 1699 and buried under the communion table in St James's church, Piccadilly, on 8 October.  The best and most representative collection of her portraits is at the Manor House Museum, Bury St. Edmund’s.

Information provided by Tony Copsey, resarcher of artists of Suffolk County.

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