Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Elizabeth Adams, late 1660s 

Mary Beale (1633-99)

Portrait of Elizabeth Adams, late 1660s, Mary Beale
Oil and Canvas
17th Century
50 1/8 x 40 1/8 in. (127.2 x 102.1 cm)
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Mary Beale was the first professional female English artist. She was a prolific painter, mainly in the style of Lely, 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. She 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. Lely’s influence is clearly evident in the present work and until recently was loosely attributed to his hand on stylistic groundings.

The sitter’s pose as a shepherdess was particularly popular in the 1670’s and was frequently used by artists like Lely and Willem Wissing as a reference to innocence and purity, of particular note is the latter’s portrait of Lady Elizabeth Jones, Countess of Kildare (1665-1758) [Yale Center for British Art].

There was an Elizabeth Hirst who was born c.1645 and who married in c.1663 a ‘Conrad Adams Esq’ although by the time their first child Conrad was born in 1773, they were based in Barbados. There has been no information found regarding when exactly they moved to Barbados, but it is quite probable that this is the same lady as seen in the present work, especially given that the portrait is dateable to the late 1660’s just after their marriage.
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