Thursday, January 30, 2014

Who the heck is Cecilia Beaux anyway?

Portrait of Mrs. Larz Anderson by Cecilia Beaux

When the New Media Relations Committee took over the job of creating the Cecilia Beaux Forum blog, we discovered that there was already a blog that had been created years ago. It was chock full of these interesting articles on Women Artists of the past and present, written over the years by members of the CBF Literature Committee, and published in the Art of the Portrait Members Journal. 

Instead of hiding them in the archives of the new blog, we decided to introduce them now and again so everyone can enjoy and learn. 

Here is the first of these blasts from the past.


By Luana Luconi Winner
Edited by Lauren Harris
The Art of the Portrait Journal
Issue No. 32, 2nd Quarter 2006

Eliza Cecilia Beaux and her older sister grew up in the care of their maternal grandmother and aunts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the mid 1800s.  The family home schooled the girls and encouraged them to be creative and imaginative while instilling a strong work ethic. When Cecilia turned 14, she spent two years at a Philadelphia finishing school before beginning her formal art training with her distant cousin, author and painter, Catherine Ann Drinker Javier.

An uncle then underwrote her classes at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. While Cecilia’s early subjects were family members, she became particularly fond of double portraits, allowing her to create inventive compositions that explored relationships between the sitters.  With the creation of Les derniers jours d’enfance, a loving, tender painting of her sister and first-born nephew, Cecilia’s life changed forever.  Les derniers won the Mary Smith Prize in 1885 at the PAFA and launched her career.

Les Derniers jours d'enfance by Cecilia Beaux © Copyright Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

At 32, Cecilia went to France to study at the Academie Julian and the Atelier Colarossi, and studying also with Charles Lazar and Alexander Harrison.  Traveling to France at least seven times throughout her life, she is said to have felt greatly indebted to the French in the development of her art.

Her reputation grew quickly as this business-wise artist deliberately chose notable men and glamorous society women as her subjects.  “It doesn’t pay to paint everybody,” said Beaux.  Her subjects grew to include Theodore Roosevelt, Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, Georges Clemenceau, Admiral Lord David Beatty, and Henry James.

Throughout her last 18 years, Cecilia struggled with poor eyesight and arthritis. When a broken hip crippled her and prevented her from painting, she chose to write her autobiography and lecture.

Beaux holds the honor of being the first full time female instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and was honored with membership in prestigious organizations including the Societe des Beaux-Arts in Paris, American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the National Academy of Design.  Appointed the official portraitist by the U. S. War Portraits commission, she received honorary degrees from Yale and the University of Pennsylvania.

When William Merritt Chase presented Cecilia Beaux with the Carnegie Institute’s Gold Medal in 1899, he said, “Miss Beaux is not only the greatest living woman painter, but the best that has ever lived.”

Mrs. Jedediah H Richards by Cecilia Beaux © Copyright Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts


Recommended reading:

Out of print
Background with Figures, Cecilia Beaux, The Riverside Press, 1930

Cecilia Beaux, Portrait of an Artist, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1974

Cecilia Beaux and the Art of Portraiture, Tara Leigh Tappart, Smithsonian/National Portrait Gallery, 1995

Available by appointment
The papers of Cecilia Beaux, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA

In print
Cecilia Beaux: A Modern Painter in the Guilded Age, Alice A. Carter, Rizzoli, 2005

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Unfortunately yours was not selected…

Okay, so everyone is congratulating each other and high-fiving on facebook about who got accepted to the PSoA Members show.

You entered, but got the “it was a tough decision…” letter and, while you’re happy for those that got in, you’re also a little sick of hearing about it, and wish you were one of them. You have probably shut facebook off a couple times already, but like a nasty scab under a bandage, you have to check on it again and again.

That was me last year during the Members Only announcements…and two years before that too…and during the BP Portrait Award announcements every year…and during the Outwin Boochever announcements every year…and every year during the PSA International Portrait Competition announcements…do I really have to go on? Its depressing me a little now.

You know you’re not alone, but no one announces their rejections on facebook. In fact, this year they had a record breaking 804 entries, with only 115 acceptances.

If you want to the winning placements, they are now on the Portrait Society of America Website

And if you want to see all the accepted works; Place, Merit and Honorable Mention, they are on the Portrait Society Facebook Page , each category with its own album. 

The quotes I’ve collected below have made me feel better at times, so maybe they’ll help you too…and if these don’t work, there’s always chocolate…and/or wine.

Take heart and keep making art

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”( from Michael Jordan)

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”. (Winston Churchill)

“Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” (Randy Pausch)

“To live in the presence of great truths and eternal laws, to be led by permanent ideals—that is what keeps a man patient when the world ignores him, and calm and unspoiled when the world praises him.” (from Honore De Balzac)

“When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.” (from Helen Keller)

“No biggie…I’m going to enter the PSoA International Show…deadline is March 4th!” (you can say this one)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Invisible Women…a group self-portrait in words

Dedicated to all the women in art, of a certain age, 
whom we have and have not met at the Portrait Society Conferences.

Therese Schwartze Self Portrait
I am the thick bespectacled woman at the bar with the fire in her belly.

Sporting sensible business attire, I speak intelligently of the technical details of art making and can’t stop staring at the insanely delicious structure of your nose.

I sit in the unreserved back tables at the awards banquet, firmly zipped into my gala-worthy finery, spilling cleavage front and back, and I want to grab you in a headlock, knock you down and paint you…hard!

My cane, my orthopedic shoes and I and have vigilantly stood guard over my artistic vision for the better part of the last 50 years…protecting it with inner peace, a passionate voice and force if necessary.

Lady Laura Alma Tadema The Bible Lesson

I came of artistic age during an era of portrait painting blight.  By night I hatched secret plots with realistic eyes and noses in the shadows of artistic institutions.  By day I pasted type to board using hot wax and aspired to someday drawing laundry soap packages like the male artists in the next room. I grew up painting people, but if I was lucky to be in the company of artists, I found no mentors, little instruction, and very few kindred spirits.

Far from the coasts, I grew up in a Portrait Society of One. I devoured what knowledge I could from forgotten black and white Velasquez reproductions in dusty library-sale books…praying the next page would hold a color plate or a detail.

My painting grew out of this desert with influences from the masters doled out by the art gods with a stingy eye dropper; a local Sargent show that, for a month became my daily happy hour; a 12 hour bus ride to the Metropolitan in New York for a two hour artgasm; and then there was the serendipitous stumble of a lifetime into a room full of Egon Scheiles in Vienna and a house full of Zorn in Sweden. Who were these artists and why, with all my art training had I never heard of them?

Artemesia Gentileschi Allegory of Painting

I have worshipped at the altar of actual Rembrandts, Velasquez and Vermeers because, when I came of age there was no internet…we really knew nothing of portraiture except for what had made it into books and museums. My favorite artists were the dead ones…and of course, the illustrators…now THEY could paint a face, but one didn’t speak of Norman Rockwell in polite art company.

And my favorite women artists were…um…Mary Cassatt. We were taught that she painted babies and mothers because of her longing to have children of her own. Even then I knew the only reason she COULD paint them was because she DIDN’T have any of her own…and as a woman, the world of home and family was one of the only she had access to paint.

Mary Cassatt Nursing her Child
I came of age when Impressionism was the closest thing to Realism that could be taught by a reputable art institution. And even that was quickly abandoned for Abstract Expressionism, and then if you were serious about painting, for pure Abstraction.

Ironically, if you bucked that path, you were reactionary…not rebellious and cool whatsoever. Even in my art youth, I’m sure I was considered every bit the dowdy middle-aged lady in spectacles you see before you today because I painted people…and they looked more or less like people.

Anne Ancher A Funeral

But here I am, many years later at the Portrait Society Conference, and at my age I don’t paint nearly as well as the twenty twenty-something Finalists (not a typo, at the Portrait Society Awards there are twenty artists whose paintings have been chosen as finalists, and many of them are in their 20s). Their youthful paintings glow like the Rembrandts that I have been memorizing for 20, 30, 40 years.

Lilian Wescott Hale Ziffy in Bed
I believe they do realize how lucky they are to have their immense talent and drive today and not 30 years ago. Today there are Academies and Ateliers that burst with instruction and inspiration for them to launch brilliant careers painting people. And there is a growing art world that embraces realism to welcome them. Seeing what these youthful masters paint and trying to learn, beg, borrow and steal how they have achieved their miracles, well, it pours gasoline on that belly fire of mine.

And now, it would seem, the time for painting people has come again. And, since the young have adopted this passion as their own, there is a strong headwind for a movement. At the Portrait Society I am surrounded by hundreds of kindred spirits and inspiration by the bucketload, but I’m thinking maybe the younger artists don’t actually see me…and unless by some lucky twist of cyber fate they have glanced at one of my facebook posts, they haven’t seen my work either.

Elizabeth Nourse The Little Sister

Nonetheless, the time for me to paint my people has come. I’ve raised my kids, I’ve saved some money, and, health, safety and caring for those I love notwithstanding, I’ve got 20, 30, 40 years ahead of me for this epic journey.

I am the bespectacled and thick lady with the fire in her belly and I am in the process of conquering the world…one painted soul at a time, and I will do so until the end of my time.

And maybe, my inspiring youthful peers at the next Portrait Society Conference will actually see me next year and know that I am on the same passionate people-painting journey they are on, but maybe they will also remember that I’ve been on it since well before there was even a path.


A special thank you to the Art Renewal Center for providing the image for Lady Laura Alma Tedema, to @Linda Crank who compiled so many wonderful images by female painters on her facebook page, and to @Nancy Bea Miller, who writes the Women in the Act of Painting blog from which I lifted the Aremesia Gentileschi painting.

Cecilia Beaux Ethel Page…this painting is just one of the many reasons why we really like Cecilia Beaux!

Written by Judy Takács.

Judy, a painter of people who has gained recognition for her Chicks with Balls project, is also the Chair of New Media Relations for the Cecilia Beaux Forum of the Portrait Society of America. And, no, this is not autobiographical, but it contains bits from her life as well as the lives of the many women artists whom she HAS met over the years.