Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Charles Beale (1632 - 1705) 1675c.

Mary Beale (1633-99)

Portrait of Charles Beale (1632 - 1705), Mary Beale
Oil on canvas
17th Century
21 x 18 inches 53.5 x 45.5 cm
In this honest head and shoulders portrait, Mary Beale depicts her husband, the artist and dilettante Charles Beale with an intimate informality.

Similar in style to a larger half-length created during the mid-1670's, Charles Beale is shown in a relaxed pose, draped in a brown gown and wearing an open-necked chemise. The artist's ability to create a compelling likeness rich in character is further demonstrated by the accented detail applied to the feature of the sitter, his wart. In an age when fashion dictated that a portrait should present a strongly posed, courtly image, Mary Beale''s likeness of her husband is strikingly unique in its casual familiarity.

Influenced by both Lely and Robert Walker, Mary Beale's treatment of her commissioned sitter is recognisably seventeenth century. In the majority of her portraiture her use of drapery and Arcadian imagery (Lady Mary Watson as a Shepherdess, c.1685, Lady Sadleir, c. 1686-7) departs little from the standardised portrayals of the day. However, the uniqueness of Beale's style and perspective lies in those uncommissioned works which she undertook for study and improvement, such as this portrait of her husband. As a woman, Beale, irrespective of her unusual role as a professional portraitist and family breadwinner, continued to maintain her traditional, domestic role at the centre of the home. Perhaps reflective of the Beales' lifestyle, their household remained an unconventional one for the time. The artist's husband, Charles not only acted as her muse but her housekeeper and accounts manger. By modern standards the Beale home might have been labelled as Bohemian, particularly as it played host to a variety of thinkers and artists such as Thomas Flatman, Samuel Woodforde, John Tillotson, and later two young women artists, Keaty Trioche and Sarah Hoadley (nee Curtis). The informality of the home and the intimacy Mary Beale shared with the sitters who formed her household translates noticeably onto her canvases. Her renderings of her husband and sons as well as her assistants, candid in expression and pose are approached from an angle not otherwise seen in seventeenth century English portraiture.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.