Eliza-Cecilia Beaux was born in Philadelphia on May 1, 1855. Her oldest sister, Alice, was born in 1851 and died a year later. Beaux’s other sister, Etta, was born in 1852. Her Father, Jean Adolphe Beaux, came to America from Provence, France to expand the family business of sewing silks. Her mother, also named Cecilia, died twelve days after Cecilia’s birth. Beaux’s father left Cecilia and Etta with her mother’s family in Philadelphia and returned to France.
Beaux and her sister were tutored by their aunts. It was her aunt Eliza, an amateur artist, who began giving the young Beaux art lessons in 1863. In 1869, the Beaux sisters were enrolled in the Lyman School for Girls. In 1871, Beaux enrolled in the Drinker Independence Studio and received formal lessons from a cousin, Catherine Ann Drinker. In 1872, Beaux’s uncle sponsored her enrollment in the Van Der Wielen School and in 1874; Beaux became a drawing instructor at the school.
In 1876, Beaux registered at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (PAFA ) and attended for three years. After the Academy, Beaux rented a studio in Philadelphia and participated in private life drawing classes organized by friends from Lyman School for Girls. Every two weeks they received critiques and guidance from William Sartain.
Beaux was accepted in the Paris Salon of 1887 with her painting, Les derniers jours d'enfance (The Last Days of Infancy). She left for France in 1888 where she studied at the Académie Julian under Tony-Robert Fleury, William Bougereau, and Benjamin Constant. She also studied at the Académie Colorossi with Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret. During the summer of 1888, Beaux made a trip to Concarneau to the artist colony where she became friends with Alexander Harrison, an American marine painter.
Beaux returned to Philadelphia and rented a studio to paint portrait work. In 1895, Beaux took a position at the PAFA. She taught drawing and painting of the head. She held this position for the next twenty years.
In 1905, Beaux moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts and built a home, which she called “Green Valley”.
Throughout her career Beaux received many honors and medals for her portraits. Her ability to capture the personality of the subject along with her sensitivity to the emotions of her sitters made her a much sought after portraitist and secured her place in the very top echelon of American portrait painters of the 20th century. Cecilia Beaux died in her sleep at Green Valley in 1942 at the age of 87.
Cecilia Beaux and the Art of Portraiture
Tara Leigh Tappart
Smithsonian Institution Press 1995
Cecilia Beaux A Modern painter in the Gilded Age
Cecilia Beaux American Figure painter
University of California Press 2007
I can say I have a passionate determination to overcome every obstacle. Work is a struggle to conquer something. And I do my own work with a refusal to accept defeat that might almost be called pitiful.