On this day in 1855, the great American portrait painter Cecilia Beaux was born. It is typical of the vicissitudes of art history that she is not better known. I think this is largely due to simple sexism. She is most often compared to John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt. But she didn’t paint the kind of domestic subjects that Cassatt is known for and she wasn’t a male like Sargent. There is also the fact that she lived a very comfortable life painting portraits of the wealthy. But I hardly think we can hold this against her given that artists have always been dependent on the patronage of the wealthy. That’s just as true of Picasso as it was Michelangelo.
With Beaux’s work, my limited knowledge of art fails me. I see her exquisite rendering of light. But she’s an interesting amalgam. In her early thirties, although already established in America, she went to France to study with Tony Robert-Fleury and William Bouguereau. At that time, the Impressionists were ascendant. Supposedly, she didn’t get much from the latter group, but it’s hard to say because I have seen no examples of her art before that period. But it does seem to me that her work very often combines finely finished as well as unfinished elements. I think this would make a stark and interesting contrast if I could see the actual paintings.
I’m very fond of Sargent and Cassatt. And when I was at the Getty Center recently, I was blown away by a painting by the former that I had never before seen. But my life would not be greatly diminished if I never again saw anything from these painters because I’ve seen so much of their work for so long. The great thing about art is that there are so many wonderful practitioners, there are always new ones to discover. And Beaux is a good example of that.
Here is an excellent example of her work, Man with the Cat:
Happy birthday Cecilia Beaux!