The Artist Cecilia Beaux

Born in Philadelphia in 1855, Cecilia Beaux was an important female artist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Known primarily for her portrait paintings, Beaux achieved considerable fame during her lifetime. Her works hang in some of the world’s most prestigious museums such as the Musee d’Orsay and the Uffizi Gallery.

The youngest daughter of Jean Adolphe Beaux, Cecilia lost her mother, Cecilia Kent Leavitt, as an infant; her mother died from puerperal fever when Cecilia was twelve days old. Her father returned to France and Cecilia and her sister were raised by their maternal grandmother and aunts. Most of their time was spent in Philadelphia. Beaux began art lessons with a relative when she was sixteen. Two years later she obtained a post as a drawing teacher. In 1863, she had a work published in St. Nicholas Magazine after a brush with lithography lessons.

In 1876, Beaux began studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Within the next decade, Beaux began to receive serious commissions for her work. Her painting, Les Derniers Jours d’Enfance, was awarded a prize for the best work painted by a female artist and the painting was subsequently shown at the Paris Salon. Although Beaux became a celebrated artist in Philadelphia, she decided to embark on further studies in Paris. While her family was not initially happy about her decision to renounce marriage for an artistic career, they eventually supported her decision whole-heartedly.

At the time Beaux arrived in Paris, the Impressionist painters were beginning to go their separate ways. Although the movement would significantly influence Beaux’s near-contemporary Mary Cassatt, Beaux herself could not subscribe to its tenets. She, on the other hand, preferred to paint in a realistic style more akin to artists like John Singer Sargent—an artist she would often favorably be compared to. Beaux would continue in the realist vein for the rest of her career even as artists like Matisse and Picasso would channel art in brand new directions.

Upon her homecoming in 1889, Beaux worked diligently as an artist and even worked part of the year in New York. She received many commissions from clients along the east coast and would eventually paint a portrait of First Lady Edith Roosevelt and sketch President Roosevelt at the White House. Although Beaux did not achieve the great fame that Cassatt did, she did enjoy immense acclaim during her life and her work continues to garner great respect among art critics and art historians. Beaux died in 1942 at the age of eighty-seven. Some of her most famous works include Sita and Sarita (1893-1894) and New England Woman (1895).