Cecilia Beaux was born May 1, 1855, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Within two weeks of her birth, her mother died, and her father left for France, leaving Beaux with her grandparents (Tappert, 1). Despite the absence of her parents, her extended family supported her career and education (Carr, vii). At First, Beaux was home schooled, practicing her artistic skills by copying photographs and lithographs (Beaux, 43). She then attended an art school run by the Dutch artist Francis Adolf Van der Wielen (Tappert, 3). Beaux continued her artistic education and chose to study in Paris after her painting Les derniers jours d'enfance was exhibited at the Salon in 1887 (Tappert, 3). She attended the prestigious Académies Julian and Colorossi (Tappert, 3). Beaux became known as a portraitist.
Beaux returned to the United States in 1889 and moved to New York City (Tappert, 3). She exhibited at The Woman’s Art Club of New York in 1893. The Club launched the careers of Beaux and similar female artists of her time. The checklist for the 1893 exhibition has been digitized for the Documenting the Gilded Age project and includes the titles, Portrait and Portrait of a Boy, for the two paintings shown by Beaux. Although probably not exhibited in 1893, the portrait of Thomas Francis Cadwalader is an example of a likeness of a young boy painted by Beaux (see illustration).
In 1899, Beaux won the gold medal at the Carnegie Art Institute’s Founder’s Day celebrations and was praised as “the greatest woman painter of modern times,” (Tappert, 1). In the last years of her life, Beaux wrote her autobiography Background with Figures:Autobiography of Cecilia Beaux and became the first female artist to be elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters as well as to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (Tappert, 5). First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt awarded Beaux with the National Achievement Gold Medal of the Chi Omega Fraternity, explaining that Beaux “had made the greatest contribution to the culture of the world,” (Tappert, 5). In 1942, at the age of 87, Beaux passed away at her home in New York.
Beaux, Cecilia. Background with Figures: Autobiography of Cecilia Beaux. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1930. Print.
Carr, Carolyn Kinder. "Foreword." Cecilia Beaux and the Art of Portraiture. Washington, DC: Published for the National Portrait Gallery by the Smithsonian Institution, 1995. vi–viii. Print.
Tappert, Tara Leigh. Cecilia Beaux and the Art of Portraiture. Washington, DC: Published for the National Portrait Gallery by the Smithsonian Institution, 1995. Print.