A Space of Their Own

Mary Beale

1633 – October 8, 1699

Active in: England
Alternate names: Mary Cradock


Mary Beale was a portraitist and can be counted among the earliest women to make a career as a professional artist in England. She was born in Suffolk in 1633 and likely learned to paint from her father, an amateur artist. She married Charles Beale in 1652 and he became her biggest supporter, keeping track of her career in more than thirty notebooks documenting sales, visitors, and her painting practice. By the mid-1650s, she was a semi-professional portraitist. Around this time, she befriended Sir Peter Lely, court painter to Charles II, who lent her Old Master works to copy. In addition to developing her skills as a painter, Beale wrote poetry and prose, including Observations, one of the first oil painting instruction manuals to be written in England by any artist, as well as a later manuscript, Discourse on Friendship. By the 1660s, Beale was producing enough income from her paintings to support her family. She took on three students later in her career, including Sarah Curtis, who would achieve recognition later in her career under her married name, Sarah Hoadly. Beale died in London in 1699.

Selected Works


Barber, Tabitha. Mary Beale (1632/3–1699): Portrait of a Seventeenth-Century Painter, Her Family and Her Studio. London: Geffrye Museum Trust, 1999.

Beale, Charles. “Observations by MB in her painting of Apricots in August 1663.” In Experimentall Seacrets Found Out in the Way of Painting, 1647/8–1663. Glasgow, University Library, Special Collections, MS Ferguson 134.

Beale, Mary. Discourse on Friendship. British Library, Harley MS 6828.

“Beale, Mary.” Oxford Art Online – Benezit Dictionary of Artists, 2011. https://doi-org.proxyiub.uits.iu.edu/10.1093/benz/9780199773787.article.B00014392.

“Beale, Mary.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. http://www.oxforddnb.com/abstract/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-1003312?rskey=jexjVK&result=1.

Borzello, Frances. Seeing Ourselves: Women’s Self-Portraits. New York: Harry Abrams, 1998.

Carver, Larry. “A Painter, Man of Letters, Novelist, and a Poet: Mary Beale, J. Frank Dobie, and Graham Greene Encounter the Earl of Rochester.” Library Chronicle of the University of Texas 23 (1993): 118–29.

Chappell, Miles. “A Note on the Portrait of Mrs. Cressett Attributed to Mary Beale.” Southeastern College Art Conference Review 9 (1979): 180–82.

Cheney, Liana, Alicia Faxon, and Kathleen Russi. Self-Portraits by Women Painters. Brookfield: Ashgate, 2000.

Clayton, Ellen C. English Female Artists. London: Tinsley Bros, 1876.

Dabbs, Julia K. Life Stories of Women Artists, 1550–1800: An Anthology. Burlington: Ashgate, 2009.

Draper, Helen. “‘Her Painting of Apricots’: The Invisibility of Mary Beale (1633–1699).” Forum for Modern Language Studies 48 (2012): 389–405.

Draper, Helen. “Mary Beale and Art’s Lost Laborers: Women Painter Stainers.” Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal 10 (2015): 141–51.

Fine, Elsa Honig. Women & Art: A History of Women Painters and Sculptors from the Renaissance to the 20th Century. London: Allanheld & Schram, 1978.

Gaze, Delia, ed. Dictionary of Women Artists. London and Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997.

Gibson-Wood, Carol. “Samuel Woodforde’s First Diary: An Early Source for Mary Beale.” The Burlington Magazine 147 (2005): 606–07.

Greer, Germaine. The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979.

Heller, Nancy G. Women Artists: An Illustrated History. New York and London: Abbeville, 2003.

Henshaw, J. “Beale, Mary, Paintress, 1633–1699.” The Times Literary Supplement 13 (1994): 18.

“Mary Beale.” RKD. https://rkd.nl/en/explore/artists/5299.

Millar, Oliver. “Mary Beale. London.” The Burlington Magazine 142 (2000): 48–49.

Reeve, Christopher. Mrs. Mary Beale, Paintress, 1633–1699. A Catalgoue of the Paintings Bequeathed by Richard Jeffrey to St. Edmundsbury Council. West Bromwich: Manor House Museum, 1994.

Thieme, Ulrich, and Felix Becker. Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler: von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. Leipzig: Seemann, 1907–50.

Vertue, George. The Note Books of George Vertue Relating to Artists and Collections in England. Oxford: The Walpole Society, 1936.

Walpole, Horace. Anecdotes of Painting in England. Strawberry Hill: T. Farmer, 1765.

Walsh, Elizabeth. “Mary Beale.” The Burlington Magazine 90 (1948): 209.

Walsh, Elizabeth. “Mrs. Mary Beale, Paintress.” Connoisseur 131 (1953): 3–8.

Walsh, Elizabeth and Richard Jeffree. “The Excellent Mrs. Mary Beale.” London: Geffrye Musem, 1975.

Entry Notes

Contributions to timeline and bibliography provided by Indiana University A300 student Kylie Teague