Mary Beale, (nee Craddock), is one of the most celebrated portraitists of the 17th century. The fact that she, as a woman, managed to reach the top of this male-dominated profession is highly unusual, (if not exceptional), and testimony to her skill and strength of character. The artist came from a puritan background and her father, John Craddock, was the reverend of Barrow in the county of Suffolk, where she was baptised in 1633. John Craddock was an amateur painter and he is recorded as being a member of the Painter-Stainers’ Company.
Little is known of Mary Beale’s training but it is possible that she received instruction from Robert Walker, a successful London portraitist who painted her father John Craddock in the 1640’s. She moved to Walton-on-Thames in 1651, after her marriage to Charles Beale, and then to Covent Garden several years after the birth of her elder son Bartholomew. Beale started to paint professionally in 1655, becoming the main source of income for the family after her husband lost his post as Deputy of Clerks at the Patent Office.
Charles devoted himself to supporting his wife in her profession, acting as her studio assistant and business manager and recording details of her career and working practices in over thirty diaries, of which one survives in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. Her fame grew rapidly in London society and her work was much admired by her contemporaries, including fellow artists such as the renowned court portraitist Sir Peter Lely and miniaturist Richard Gibson.
Lely was an ardent admirer of Beale’s work and the two evidently enjoyed a very close relationship with one another. Lely allowed her the great privilege of observing him and studying his technique whilst he painted, even granting her permission to produce copies of his own works.As well as producing copies, Beale also worked hard to satisfy the high demand for her own work. She produced a large number of portraits, including many for the clergy and the nobility, as her husband proudly records in his diaries where he lists a great number of her sitters.
Many of Beale’s works have survived, including a large collection of paintings in the collection of the Manor House Museum in Bury St Edmunds, her portrait of her two sons in the Tate Britain collection, and a fine self portrait of the artist, which hangs in The National Gallery.
Literature:– Barber, T. and Bustin M., ‘Mary Beale: Portrait of a Seventeenth Century Painter, Her Family andHer Studio’, exhibition catalogue, Geffrye Museum, (1999)
This fine portrait depicts Isaac Barrow (1630 – 1677), a Christian theologian and mathematician who is generally given credit for his early role in the development of infinitesimal calculus. Isaac went to school first at Charterhouse, where he was so turbulent and pugnacious that his father was heard to pray that if it pleased God to take any of his children he could best spare Isaac. He completed his education at Trinity College, he then resided for a few years in college, but in 1655 he was driven out by the persecution of the Independents. He spent the next four years in the East of Europe, and after many adventures returned to England in 1659.
Barrow was ordained the next year, and appointed to the professorship of Greek at Cambridge. In 1662 he was made professor of geometry at Gresham College, and in 1663 was selected as the first occupier of the Lucasian chair at Cambridge. He resigned the latter to his pupil Newton in 1669, whose superior abilities he recognized and frankly acknowledged. He was appointed master of Trinity College in 1672, and held the post until his death. Another portrait by Mary Beale of the same sitter can be seen at Trinity College, Cambridge.