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Mary Beale (1633-1699) and her 'paynting roome' in Restoration London

Citation: Draper, Helen (2020) Mary Beale (1633-1699) and her 'paynting roome' in Restoration London. Doctoral thesis, University of London.

DRAPER, H - THESIS - Mary Beale.pdf

Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

In the history of British art, Mary Beale’s was the earliest documented professional studio led by a woman artist. There were other female painters, but only Beale(1633-1699) established a successful business and maintained it for over twenty years, all without benefit of formal training, guild affiliation or court patronage. Mary’s surviving body of work comprises self-portraits, likenesses of family and friends painted for love, and portraits painted on cash commission from ‘persons of quality’. Gentlewoman Beale was also a writer whose works include the manuscript Observations by MB in her painting of Apricots (1663), the earliest known guide to painting with oils by an artist practising in Britain. Mary’s work as a portraitist in London’s fashionable West End supported her ‘middling’ family of four, with husband Charles (d.1705) acting as her studio manager. Their friends were courtiers, tradespeople, intellectuals, clergymen, artists and lawyers, and included figures obscure and prominent within and beyond the metropolis. Despite her exceptional role in art and history, and a wealth of largely unpublished primary source material, studies to date are limited to brief exhibition catalogues. In examining Beale, her career, family and circle, I ask whether she was an aberration, or truly a woman of her time. Does Mary’s example suggest that gentlewomen’s lives were not wholly dictated by domestic duties and the rhetorical expectation of female modesty, reclusiveness and silence? Her experience certainly calls into question current sociological distinctions between ‘private’ and ‘public’ spheres in women’s lives, and blurs the line between what was amateur and professional in their work. My research poses new questions about this particular artist and, in answering them, the thesis sheds important light on Restoration women’s contribution to commercial, intellectual and cultural life, while challenging our understanding of gender roles, families and class in early modern London.

Creators: Draper, Helen and
Subjects: History
Keywords: Beale, Mary Art, English Art history 17th century art Artists Women artists
Divisions: Institute of Historical Research
Collections: Thesis
Theses and Dissertations
  • 1 March 2020 (completed)


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