Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Monday, October 8, 2018

Mary Beale and the Business of Painting

Mary Craddock Beale (died 8 October 1699)


Although the date of her birth is not recorded, Mary Craddock was baptized on 26 March 1633 by her father, the Reverend John Craddock, in the rectory of St. Paul's Church, Barrow, Suffolk. Her mother's name was Dorothy--her family name is obscured on her marriage record.

Mary Craddock Beale,
self portrait
Her father may have begun his daughter's training, for the Puritan clergyman was known to have been an amateur painter. He was also a member of the Painter-Stainers Company of London, presenting one of his own paintings ("of varieties of fruits") to them in 1648.

Speculation about other painters who may have contributed to Mary Craddock's training include the portrait painter Robert Walker, who painted the Reverend Craddock's portrait in the late 1640s, as well as the court painter Peter Lely and the miniature painter Matthew Snelling, both of whom lived and worked in nearby Bury St. Edmonds, and who were members of John Craddock's social group. 

Mary Craddock met and married Charles Beale, a cloth merchant, in 1652, when she was eighteen. Like her father, Beale was an amateur painter. Mary Craddock Beale relocated with her husband to London, settling in Covent Garden.

Over the course of the next few years, she gave birth to and buried a son, then gave birth to two more boys. During these early years she must have continued painting, because by 1658, she is well enough known that she is named in Sir William Sanderson's The Excellent Art of Painting, where she is noted as one of four (married) women painters active in London.

In 1665, the couple relocated to Hampshire in order to escape the plague in London, but they returned to London, this time taking up residence on Fleet Street. At about the same time, Charles Beale lost his job as clerk in the Patent Office, and Mary Beale transitioned from painting as an amateur to painting as a professional.

Charles Beale took over the management of his wife's studio, "organizing commissions," recording payments received and debts paid, and "preparing colors." His detailed notebooks, a few of which survive, contain records of Mary Beale's work, her associations with other artists,  and the "business" of art, including the close care needed with her subjects, who needed to be chosen in order to protect her reputation. 

Through her work as a painter, Mary Craddock Beale was able to support her family--in 1677 alone, she had eighty-three commissions (all carefully recorded by her husband in his notebooks). But by 1681, when fashions had changed, her popularity waned, and Beale once again made an adjustment, taking on students, including Sarah Curtis Hoadly.

Beale died in London on 8 October 1699, aged sixty-six, and is buried at St. James's Church, Piccadilly. 

In her work, Mary Craddock Beale focused on portrait painting, working in oil, water color, and pastel, her style sometimes described as "vigorous" and "masculine," a word often used to praise women painters. Her work was also praised for its "color, strength, force" and "life." In addition to her painting and teaching, Beale wrote, including instructional materials, a piece titled Observations, in which she explained how to paint apricots. 

A large body of work survives, as a quick Google search will show. I recommend the gallery at Artnet for a good survey--it currently includes 169 of her works. 

I recommend Ruth Dugdale's charming essay, "On the Trail of Suffolk Artist Mary Beale," published in the East Anglian Daily Times. There is also a chapter on Beale in Ellen Creaythorne Clayton's 1876 English Female Artists, accessible at the Internet Archive (click here).







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