Beale began her artistic career as an amateur in the 1650s, but started to paint professionally in the early 1670s, when, after escaping to Hampshire to avoid the plague, her family returned to London. She worked with Peter Lely in his studio, and, amongst other...

This portrait of a bewigged gentleman was painted by Mary Beale, one of the first professional female English artists. Beale was a talented and prolific painter and through the diaries kept by her husband Charles, a former Clerk to the Patents Office who became her studio assistant and colourman, we know much of her technique and working practice.

Beale began her artistic career as an amateur in the 1650s, but started to paint professionally in the early 1670s, when, after escaping to Hampshire to avoid the plague, her family returned to London. She worked with Peter Lely in his studio, and, amongst other duties, made small copies of his portraits of famous sitters. We can observe Lely’s influence in the present work, particularly in the inclusion of a painted stone cartouche which was a visual device frequently employed by Lely from the 1660s onwards.

As is all too often the case with portraits from this date, the identity...

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This portrait of a bewigged gentleman was painted by Mary Beale, one of the first professional female English artists. Beale was a talented and prolific painter and through the diaries kept by her husband Charles, a former Clerk to the Patents Office who became her studio assistant and colourman, we know much of her technique and working practice.

Beale began her artistic career as an amateur in the 1650s, but started to paint professionally in the early 1670s, when, after escaping to Hampshire to avoid the plague, her family returned to London. She worked with Peter Lely in his studio, and, amongst other duties, made small copies of his portraits of famous sitters. We can observe Lely’s influence in the present work, particularly in the inclusion of a painted stone cartouche which was a visual device frequently employed by Lely from the 1660s onwards.

As is all too often the case with portraits from this date, the identity of the subject painted here has been lost over time and as a result we do not know for certain when or how the commission came about. Stylistically, however, it conforms with Beale’s portraiture from the early-to-mid 1680s when her work was in high demand.

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500 Years of British Art