Archives of American Art

A Finding Aid to the Cecilia Beaux Papers, 1863-1968, in the Archives of American Art

Collection ID:
Beaux, Cecilia, 1855-1942
Physical Description:
3.3 Linear feet
The papers of the painter Cecilia Beaux measure 3.3 linear feet and date from 1863 to 1968. Papers document her education, career and personal life through family and professional correspondence, twelve diaries, lectures, essays, poems, notes, clippings, catalogs, pamphlets, exhibition records, business records, photographs, certificates, diplomas, and artifacts.

Scope and Content Note
Scope and Content Note
The papers of the painter Cecilia Beaux measure 3.3 linear feet and date from 1863 to 1968.
Biographical Materials include autobiographical notes written by Beaux, published biographical essays, and articles about Beaux. A lengthy correspondence from Beaux to her friend A. Piatt Andrew of Massachusetts is found, as well as correspondence with family and professional associates. Lengthy letters from Beaux to her family during trips to Europe contain scattered illustrations. Professional correspondents include other artists, teachers, patrons, critics, curators, dealers, and writers.
Writings include one early diary from the 1870s, and a series of eleven additional diaries dating from 1905 to 1913, which record daily activities related to her artwork and personal life. Numerous lectures and essays from her later career are found, often in multiple drafts, as are manuscripts of published and unpublished poems by Beaux. A single sketch, a study for a portrait, is also found.
A floor plan, lists of paintings, receipts, written bids, and other notes document the exhibition and sale of Beaux's artwork. Printed materials related to her career include exhibition catalogs and other ephemera, a scrapbook of primarily clippings related to her early career, and loose clippings related to her later career. Photographs include formal portraits of Cecilia Beaux and informal photographs of Beaux alone and with colleagues, friends, and family members in various settings including Concarneau, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Gloucester, and Malines, Belgium. Also found is a photograph of John Singer Sargent painting.

The collection is arranged into 6 series, with multiple subseries in Series 2:
    Missing Title
  • Series 1: Biographical Materials, circa 1893-1943 (Box 1, OV 4-5; 0.3 linear feet)
  • Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1863-1968 (Boxes 1-2; 1.2 linear feet)
  • Series 3: Writings, circa 1868-1954 (Boxes 2-3, OV 6; 0.8 linear feet)
  • Series 4: Personal Business Records, circa 1883-1936 (Box 3, OV 6; 0.2 linear feet)
  • Series 5: Printed Materials, circa 1874-1953 (Box 3, OV 6; 0.5 linear feet)
  • Series 6: Photographs, circa 1888-1919(Box 3; 0.3 linear feet)

Biographical Note
Biographical Note
Cecilia Beaux was born in Philadelphia in 1855. Her mother died just days after her birth, and Beaux and her sister went to live with their grandmother and aunts. Her adoptive family exposed her to fine art throughout her childhood and, once in school, Beaux excelled in her drawing classes and began training in the studio of Catherine A. Drinker, an artist and a cousin of her uncle Will Biddle. From 1881-1883 she attended life classes directed by William Sartain, who traveled to Philadelphia from New York to give criticisms. She also counted the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts master Thomas Eakins among her early influences, though she did not receive direct instruction from him.
Her first major success in painting was a double-portrait of her sister and nephew entitled Les Derniers Jours d'Enfance, exhibited first at the American Art Association, and in 1885 at the Pennsylvania Academy, where it won the Mary Smith Prize, the first of many prizes Beaux received during her lifetime. In 1887, the painting was exhibited at the Paris salon to critical acclaim. Beaux's reputation as a Philadelphia portraitist grew steadily with the execution of several portraits her in Chestnut Street studio, and in 1888 she traveled to Europe to continue her studio education.
In Paris, she joined the Academie Julien, where she received criticisms from Tony Robert Fleury and William Adolph Bougereau. She spent the summer in Concarneau, Brittany, where Alexander Harrison and Charles Lazar critiqued her work, and returned to Paris, where she attended the Academie Colarossi under and sought out private criticisms in the atelier of Benjamin Constant. She copied paintings and classical sculpture at the Louvre, and traveled throughout Europe to view the works of old masters. In England, she painted several portraits of her friends, the Darwins, before returning to Philadelphia in August of 1889. She traveled to Europe several more times in her life, including a trip in 1896 to see six of her paintings exhibited at the Salon de Champs de Mars. At the time this was an unprecedented number of paintings shown there by an American, and their strength earned her a membership in the Societé Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
In the 1890s, Beaux earned a living painting commissioned portraits at her Philadelphia studio, while experimenting with and refining her style and technique with portraits of friends and family such as Sita and Sarita, of her cousin Sarah Leavitt with her cat, The Dreamer, of her friend Caroline Smith, and Ernesta with Nurse, of her niece, who was a favorite sitter of Beaux's throughout her life. Beaux became the first full-time female faculty member at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1895, and continued teaching there until 1915.
In the late 1890s, Beaux painted several works for which she would be repeatedly honored, including Mother and Daughter, a double-portrait of Mrs. Clement A. Griscom and her daughter Frances, which won four gold medals at international exhibitions, and The Dancing Lesson, a double-portrait of Dorothea and Francesca Gilder, the daughters of Richard Watson Gilder, editor of Century Magazine and himself a devoted friend and supporter of Beaux. The Gilders, and especially Dorothea, were steady companions as well as sitters for Beaux throughout her adult life. In 1901 and 1902, Beaux painted Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and her daughter Ethel in the White House, and in 1903, she was elected to the National Academy of Design.
By 1905 Beaux was living and working primarily in New York during the winter, and at "Green Alley," a home she built in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in the summer. She was introduced to Gloucester by her friend, the Harvard economist A. Piatt Andrew, and entertained a steady stream of intellectual, literary, and artistic friends such as Isabella Stuart Gardner, William James, and Thornton Oakley. Beaux continued to amass prizes and honors for her artwork, including an honorary doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania in 1908. She had solo exhibitions at Macbeth Gallery in 1910, the Corcoran Gallery in 1912, and M. Knoedler Gallery in 1915 and 1917. She had regular public speaking appearances, published articles, and interviews on such subjects as art education, women in art, and modernist art, the pervasive influence of which she eschewed as a passing fad.
In 1919, she traveled to war-torn Europe as the official portraitist of the United States War Portraits Commission painted the portraits of three European war heroes: Cardinal Mercier, Admiral Beatty, and Georges Clemenceau. In 1924, she broke her hip in Paris, and although she continued to paint, she would never again be the prolific painter of her earlier years due to the injury. She wrote her autobiography Background with Figures in 1930, and in 1935-1936, the American Academy of Arts and Letters held the largest exhibition of her work that was mounted during her lifetime. Beaux died in 1942 in Gloucester, at the age of 87.

Megan McShea
Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art
Separated Material
The Archives of American Art also holds microfilm of material lent for microfilming (reels 3425 and 3658) including a sketchbook and other related papers. Lent materials were returned to the lenders and are not described in the collection container inventory.
Portions of the papers were first lent for microfilming by Harrison Cultra in 1968. The bulk of the collection was donated in1970-1971 by Catherine Drinker Bowen, Beaux's niece, and by Cultra. In 1985, the sketchbook on reel 3425 was lent for microfilming by art dealer Jeffrey Brown with additional material by The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. A palette was donated by Helen Seely Wheelwright, whose former husband, Paul Seeley, was an artist and friend of Beaux. Awards and diplomas were gifted in 1995 by Cecilia Saltonstall, a descendant of Beaux. Material and a poster reproduction of Beaux's portrait of Rear-Admiral Sampson advertising an article in Century Magazine, 1899, was donated in 1991 by Alfred J. Walker, a dealer who organized a Beaux exhibition. He received the material along with artwork he exhibited from the estate of Richard Barker, who had received them from Harrison Cultra. Cultra had inherited them from Beaux's niece, Ernesta Drinker Barlow.
Alternative Forms Available
The papers of Cecilia Beaux in the Archives of American Art were digitized in
, and total
Photographs of works of art have not been digitized.
Material lent for microfilming are available on 35mm microfilm reels 3425 and 3658 at the Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.
Processing Information
Papers were donated in four separate accessions between 1970 and 1995 and partially microfilmed on reels 426-429 and 1369. At this time, nitrate negatives in the collection were printed and copy negatives made. Loaned materials that were later donated were microfilmed on reels N/68-48 - N/68-49. All accretions were integrated, re-processed, and described in a finding aid by Megan McShea in 2006 and scanned in 2007 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Using the Collection
Restrictions on Access
The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.
Terms of Use
The Archives of American Art makes its archival collections available for non-commercial, educational and personal use unless restricted by copyright and/or donor restrictions, including but not limited to access and publication restrictions. AAA makes no representations concerning such rights and restrictions and it is the user's responsibility to determine whether rights or restrictions exist and to obtain any necessary permission to access, use, reproduce and publish the collections. Please refer to the Smithsonian's Terms of Use for additional information.
Preferred Citation
Cecilia Beaux papers, 1863-1968. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Related Material
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts holds additional papers related to Cecilia Beaux, particularly personal photographs. Portions of these papers were loaned to the Archives of American Art for microfilming in 1985 and were microfilmed on reel 3658.
The Archives of American Art also holds the Dorothea Gilder papers regarding Cecilia Beaux.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Painters -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Portrait painters -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Educators -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women artists Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women painters Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women educators Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art -- Economic aspects Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art -- Study and teaching Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Poems Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Diaries Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Andrew, A. Piatt (Abram Piatt), 1873-1936 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
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Victor Building, Suite 2200
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