Cecilia Beaux has been called the finest woman painter in America in the
1900s. Cecilia's works used a delicate blend of precise coloring, unique
manipulation of paint, and a masterful skill combined in her innovative designs.
Throughout her career she received many commissions to paint portraits of
important political figures of the time, including such people as President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt while they were in the White
House. Mrs. Roosevelt was said to have been one of Cecilia's biggest fans.
Cecilia Beaux was born on May 1, 1855, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Her mother was Cecilia Kent Leavitt, a school teacher, and her father, Jean
Beaux was a silk manufacturer from France. Cecilia received drawing
lessons from her family at a very young age. She then studied art
under Adolf van der Whelen, who was a Dutch painter and also studied under
In 1884, Cecilia was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art.
While studying at the Academy, Cecilia made lithographs and paintings on fine
china to help support herself.
In 1888, Cecilia decided to devote her career to being a portrait painter.
After turning down several marriage proposals, Cecilia moved to Europe, where
she studied at the Academie Colarossi, the Academie Julian, and also studied at
an art colony.
Cecilia returned to Philadelphia in 1890, where she quickly established a reputation as one of America's best portrait painters. She received many
commissions such as "Ernesta with Nurse", which was a portrait of some of her
family members. The art world as well as many of her contemporaries
considered Cecilia to be the most distinguished woman portrait painter in
America. Cecilia won many awards and prizes for her works.
Cecilia's use of vibrant colors and of whites, yellows, and lavenders against
dark backgrounds became her signature style. In 1895, her painting titled
"New England Woman", which she displayed in Philadelphia, forever marked her as an Impressionist, primarily due to her use of colors such as the glaring light that illuminates the woman in this painting.
Cecilia taught at the Pennsylvania Academy and continued teaching art even
after she moved to New York City in 1898.
Cecilia's paintings were exhibited throughout the United States,
Paris, and London on a frequent basis. Her painting style was drawn from
such artists as John Singer Sargent and Thomas Sully. Cecilia built a summer house in
Gloucester, Massachusetts in the mid 1920s. Her house quickly became a
popular place for many of her distinguished patrons.
Cecilia's career was at its high point of popularity during the 1930s.
She received many awards, held two retrospective exhibitions of her art, and
published her autobiography, "Background with Figures", which was one of several
books written by her. The other books were art instruction books,
teacher's manuals, and books about portraiture.
In 1933, Cecilia was presented with the Chi Omega fraternity's gold medal for
"The American woman who had made the greatest contribution to the culture of the
world". The award was presented to her by one of her greatest admirers,
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Cecilia continued painting portraits and spent her time in Philadelphia, New
York, and Gloucester. On September 16, 1942, Cecilia Beaux died.
After viewing her artwork while researching this write-up, I can see why she
received such critical acclaim and the awards.