Cecilia Beaux - A Little Girl - 1887

Cecilia Beaux - A Little Girl - 1887

Cecilia Beaux (1855 – 1942) was the greatest American female portrait painter.  At age 16, Beaux began studying with a relative, Catharine Ann Drinker, an accomplished artist who had her own studio and a going clientele. Beaux began attending the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1876, then under the influence of Thomas Eakins.  In 1884 she painted Les Derniers Jours d’Enfance (see below), a portrait of her sister and nephew.  It was awarded a prize, and in the mid-1880s, she was receiving commissions from notable Philadelphians and earning $500 per portrait, comparable to Eakins.  Despite her success, at age 32 Beaux decided she needed more training and moved to Paris to study at the Académie Julian with Tony Robert-Fleury and Bouguereau.

Back in America in 1889, Beaux proceeded to paint portraits of her sister’s family as well as the elite of Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston and New York.   She constantly struggled for perfection, “A perfect technique in anything,” she stated in an interview, “means that there has been no break in continuity between the conception and the act of performance.” She summed up her driving work ethic, “I can say this: When I attempt anything, I have a passionate determination to overcome every obstacle. . .”  While presenting the Carnegie Institute’s Gold Medal to Beaux in 1899, William Merrit Chase stated “Miss Beaux is not only the greatest living woman painter, but the best that has ever lived.”

Cecilia Beaux - Les Derniers Jours d'Enfance - 1885

Cecilia Beaux - Les Derniers Jours d'Enfance - 1885