Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Art of Cecilia Beaux

Cecilia Beaux Self Portrait, c. 1889-94

Self Portrait of Cecilia Beaux

After studying in Paris, Beaux returned to Philadelphia in 1889. During the next decade her portrait practice thrived. (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, image provided by Smithsonian American Art Museum)

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

After successful studies in Paris and the coast of France, and a few commissions in England, Beaux returned to Philadelphia in 1889. In this self-portrait, Beaux eschewed the superficial trappings of a traditional portrait, preferring to present her essence as a mature, confident woman. While her face is in focus, her body is only suggested, and the background is nothing more than loosely constructed brushstrokes. The primacy of the brushwork may allude to her profession as a painter. This work is experimental in nature and belies the professional standing she was achieving as the pre-eminent portraitist in Philadelphia. Simultaneously she was exhibiting widely across the country, winning prizes and medals. In 1895 she “consented” to teach a Head Class and portraiture at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, becoming the first full-time woman instructor and confirming her importance in the art world.

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