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Mary Beale

Suffolk 1663 - 1669 London
Price range
0 – 500,000 USD
Mary Beale is the first professional British woman artist.

Celebrated now as an early feminist icon for her tremendous success as a portraitist, she was also a poet and author whose book Discourse on Friendship (1667) argued, much ahead of her time, for the equality of husband and wife in a marriage.

Little is known about her early career although at the age of 25, Mary Beale was documented as one of four women artists working in ‘Oly Colours’ in William Sanderson’s publication Graphice. The Use of the Pen and Pencil or The Most Excellent Art of Painting (1658). In 1669, she settled in Pall Mall with her husband Charles and two young sons, and her professional career rapidly flourished. Charles became her studio manager as well as her colorman, providing materials for priming the canvas and production of pigments. In the 1670s Mary became friendly with the influential court painter to Charles II, Sir Peter Lely (1618–1680). Their close relationship resulted in her privileged access to Lely’s insights and personal collection–one of England’s finest at the time–making copies after his work and borrowing elements for her own compositions; conversely, Lely accepted commissions from Beale’s family friends often to be paid for in unconventional terms, such as the provision of ultramarine blue.

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Selected artworks

Top 3 auction prices

81,168 $
94,880 $
117,939 $


The sales are: Bonhams Knightsbridge – 6 April 2017 lot 188 (65,000 GBP; catalogued as ‘circle of Mary Beale’), Sotheby’s London – 29 October 2014 (58,750 GBP), and Sotheby’s London – 4 July 2019 lot 175 (93,750 GBP)
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Books on Mary Beale

Penelope Hunting, My Dearest Heart: The Artist Mary Beale (1633–1699), 2019.

Tabitha Barber, Mary Beale: Portrait of a Seventeenth-Century Painter, her Family and her Studio, exh. cat., London, 1999.

Christopher Reeve, Mrs Mary Beale, Paintress: A Catalogue of the Paintings Bequeathed by Richard Jaffree, Together with Other Paintings by Mary Beale in the Collections of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, exh. cat., St. Edmundsbury, 1994.

Richard Jeffree and Elizabeth Walsh, The Excellent Mrs. Mary Beale, exh. cat., London, 1975.

Notable Exhibitions

London, Tate Britain, Now You See Us: Women Artists in Britain 1520–1920, 16 May – 13 October 2024. Curated by Tabitha Barber.

London, Geffyre Museum, Mary Beale: Portrait of a Seventeenth-Century Painter, her Family and her Studio, 21 September 1999 – 30 January 2000. Curated by Tabitha Barber.

West Bromwich, Manor House Museum, Mrs Mary Beale, Paintress, 1994. Curated by Christopher Reeve.

London, Geffrye Museum, The Excellent Mrs. Mary Beale, 13 October –21 December 1975; travelled to Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, 10 January–21 February 1976. Curated by Richard Jeffree and Elizabeth Walsh.

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