Over the last few decades several head studies by Beale have come to light. Two examples, depicting Beale’s son Bartholomew, were recently discovered in an antique shop in Paris and are now at the Tate. Another, depicting Beale’s husband Charles, was recently unearthed in the...

We are grateful to Tabitha Barber for her kind assistance when writing this catalogue note.


Mary Beale experienced considerable success during her lifetime as a painter of formal portraits, however, alongside these commissioned works Beale also painted intimate head studies of family and members of her household. These studies were generally painted in oils on paper with only the head finished and the bodies loosely defined using a dark background colour. Both sensitive and immediate, these studies, of which the present work is a particularly fine example, are among Beale’s most celebrated works.

Over the last few decades several head studies by Beale have come to light. Two examples, depicting Beale’s son Bartholomew, were recently discovered in an antique shop in Paris and are now at the Tate. Another, depicting Beale’s husband Charles, was recently unearthed in the collection at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada.

We do not know the identity of the young boy shown...


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We are grateful to Tabitha Barber for her kind assistance when writing this catalogue note.


Mary Beale experienced considerable success during her lifetime as a painter of formal portraits, however, alongside these commissioned works Beale also painted intimate head studies of family and members of her household. These studies were generally painted in oils on paper with only the head finished and the bodies loosely defined using a dark background colour. Both sensitive and immediate, these studies, of which the present work is a particularly fine example, are among Beale’s most celebrated works.

Over the last few decades several head studies by Beale have come to light. Two examples, depicting Beale’s son Bartholomew, were recently discovered in an antique shop in Paris and are now at the Tate. Another, depicting Beale’s husband Charles, was recently unearthed in the collection at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada.

We do not know the identity of the young boy shown here and his facial features do not seem to correspond with Beale’s husband Charles or their eldest son Bartholomew (bap.1656). Their youngest son Charles (c.1660-1714) is a possible candidate, although his iconography is sparse making a firm identification difficult. That having been said, a portrait of a young man wearing a fur hat, previously with Philip Mould & Co. and traditionally identified as a portrait of Charles, does show a young man with a similarly round face and straight nose.

Mary Beale was the most distinguished female portrait painter of the Stuart period, and enjoys a particular celebrity among the portraitists of the seventeenth century. This is not solely because she was a woman in a profession dominated by men, rather it was because she competed so successfully with her male colleagues and was so prolific a painter. Additionally, through the diaries kept by her husband Charles, a former Clerk to the Patents Office, who became her studio assistant and colourman, we know more of her technique and working practice than that of many of her contemporaries, including Sir Peter Lely.

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500 Years of British Art