Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942)

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Cecilia Beaux was an American painter of society portraits. Beaux was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where she spent most of her childhood. Beaux was raised by her grandmother and aunts since her mother died during childbirth and her father returned to France to grieve the loss of his wife. Beaux seldom saw her father but admired his artistic ability, shown through sketches of animals.

Beaux, Clemenceau, 1920

Clemenceau, 1920

Beaux, William Henry Howell

William Henry Howell

As a child Beaux’s Uncle would take her to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where she learned a great deal about art history. Beaux particularly admired the work of Benjamin West. When Beaux was sixteen her relative, Catherine Ann Drinker, started giving her private art lessons. Beaux showed great artistic talent and continued studying with Francis Adolf der Wielen, who offered lessons in perspective and drawing from casts.

Beaux, The Dreamer, 1894

The Dreamer, 1894

By the time Beaux was eighteen she started giving art lessons at Miss Sanford’s School in Philadelphia and making small portraits. Beaux did some work in scientific illustration but preferred the work of a painter. In 1876 Beaux began taking classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Beaux studied costume and portrait painting for three years under the director Christian Schussele. Thomas Eakins was simultaneously working at the Academy but Beaux avoided his controversial teachings.

Beaux, Man with a Cat

Man with a Cat

When Beaux left the Academy she decided to learn the trade of porcelain painting and enrolled in the National Art Training School. Beaux was capable, but found the work too commercial and unsatisfying. Beaux became determined to become a respected portrait artist. In 1875 Beaux had a breakthrough when her painting “Les Derniers Jours d’Enfance” won an award and Beaux was acknowledged as the best female artist in the Academy. The painting was later exhibited in the prestigious Salon in Paris.

Beaux, Dressing Dolls, 1928

Dressing Dolls, 1928

With a greater since of confidence, Beaux proceeded to make a substantial body of work and received many commissions. Beaux showed success in Philadelphia but decided to further her training in Paris. Beaux studied at the Academie Julian and the Academie Colarossi. Beaux worked with artists Tony Robert-Fleury and William-Adolphe Bouguereau. In Europe Beaux was not tempted by the growing impressionist movement, and maintained her realist style.

Beaux returned to America in 1889 and continued painting portraits in Philadelphia. Beaux never married, so as not to distract her from her career as a painter. Beaux remained productive, exhibiting in Paris and New York. Beaux even made a trip to the White House to paint the President Teddy Roosevelt.

Beaux, A Little Girl, 1887

A Little Girl, 1887

Beaux became the first woman to have a stable teaching position at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Beaux was loyal to the Academy ad taught portrait drawing and painting for twenty years.


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