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oil painting

© Geffrye Museum, London

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Self-portrait of Mary Beale with her husband Charles and son Bartholomew, oil on canvas, c.1660 in London, in a carved and gilded pine frame, c.1675-1700.
Object type: oil painting
Object number: 49/1978

More Information:

Detailed Description: +/-

Title/Model: Self portrait of Mary Beale with her husband and son (descriptive title)
Physical Description:
Oil on canvas painting, glazed and framed in a carved and gilded pine picture frame.
Materials & technique: oil on canvas, framed and glazed
Dimensions: Height 60.2cm
Width 74cm

History: +/-

Date: c. 1660 (painted)
Period: Stuart (1603-1714)
Production Note:
A letter dated 9th May 1978 from the art historian Richard Jeffree who wrote the catalogue for the Geffrye's 1975 The Excellent Mrs Mary Beale exhibition identifies the sitters as Mary Beale, her husband Charles and their eldest son Bartholomew, born 1656. Jeffree suggest that the appearance of all the sitters, and Mary Beale's hairstyle suggest the date c.1663-1664. In the Geffrye Museum’s 2000 exhibition Mary Beale: Portrait of a seventeenth-century painter, her family and studio, and in the accompanying catalogue by Tabitha Barber the work is dated as 1659/1660. Barber suggests that the work “was presumably painted before the birth of her second son, Charles, in 1660, and possibly in connection with her husband’s appointment as Deputy-Clerk of the Patents Office.” Further research is need to date this work more closely, but it seems likely that the work was made c.1660 and is recorded here as such.
Artist/Maker Names: Mary Beale (artist)
Associated Names Charles Beale (sitter)
Bartholomew Beale (sitter)
Place: London, England (painted)
Object History:
At the point of acquisition, a letter dated 9th May 1978 from the art historian Richard Jeffree (who wrote the catalogue for the Geffrye's 1975 exhibition The Excellent Mrs Mary Beale) identifies the sitters as "Mary Beale herself and her husband Charles with one of their two surviving sons: he is more likely to be Bartholomew". Bartholomew was the elder son and born in 1655/1656. Jeffree argues that the appearance of all three sitters, and Mary Beale's hairstyle suggest a date between 1663-1664, at which time the family was living at Hind Court, off Fleet Street, in official lodgings above the Patents Office, where Charles Beale had a position.

The work was again included in the Geffrye Museum’s 2000 exhibition Mary Beale: Portrait of a seventeenth-century painter,her family and studio, and in the accompanying catalogue by Tabitha Barber, the work is dated as 1659/1660. Barber suggests that the work “was presumably painted before the birth of her second son, Charles, in 1660, and possibly in connection with her husband’s appointment as Deputy-Clerk of the Patents Office.” Further research is needed to date this work more closely, but given that the child depicted in the portrait is unbreached (and therefore likely to be younger than eight), and Jeffree's discussion of the hairstyles and dress needs to be verified, it seems likely that the work was made c.1660 and is recorded here as such.

This work is discussed in Frances Borzello’s 1998 publication, Seeing Ourselves: women’s self-portraits in relation to Mary Beale’s presentation of herself and is described as undercutting seventeenth-century family portrait conventions. Borzello states that “although she and her husband frame their son in the traditional way, the artist sets herself apart from the two males in a manner that has nothing to do with a modest feminine acknowledgement of male superiority. Instead the son and father are linked in an embrace, the father looks across at his wife, and she looks out to the spectator, pointing to herself….’I did this’ the artist says. ‘I am the one who deserves respect’ ”.

Borzello references another self-portrait dated c.1665, in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. In this work, a self-portrait in which Mary Beale is holding two small portraits of her sons, Borzello says, “Her decision to include her palette on the wall behind her signals her strong sense of her identity as an artist – even stronger as a result of her husband’s loss of income which had turned her into the family breadwinner”. Tabitha Barber refutes this assertion in her catalogue entry for the Geffrye’s portrait in the 2000 exhibition, arguing that “Mary presents herself as wife and mother, her stress on family unity, but at the same time gestures to herself to indicate her authorship of the work. It is unlikely that Mary intended to stress her superiority or her role as breadwinner”.

It seems questionable that a female artist at this time would assert her economic dominance quite as emphatically as Borzello suggests, however, there do appear to be a number of subtle adjustments in the placement of the figures and the gestures which transgress expectations of how male and female sitters might be presented. Further research into family portraits of this period is needed to pursue this line of enquiry.

The painting has a carved pine frame with a gilded and burnished finish and was probably made in Britain between 1675 to 1700. It was regilded by Paul Mitchell Ltd in 1978.
Display Labels:
Label text, Geffrye Museum, date unknown:
Mary Beale with husband Charles and son Bartholomew. Mary Beale, c1663-1664 Oil on canvas.
References:
The Hatcher Review, (Salisbury: Hatcher Review Trust, 1983), Volume II, Number 15.

Frances Borzello, Seeing Ourselves: Women's Self-Portraits (London: Thames and Hudson, 1998)

Elizabeth Walsh and Richard Jeffree, 'The Excellent Mrs Mary Beale',(London: Inner London Education Authority, 1975)

Tabitha Barber, Mary Beale: Portrait of a Seventeenth Century painter, her family and her studio, (London: Geffrye Museum Trust, 1999)

Painting, Mary Beale, by Mary Beale, c.1665, National Portrait Gallery collection, object number NPG 1687.

Mary Beale, Discourse on Friendship, 1666/7, British Library Harley MS 6828 f.510-23.

Xanthe Brooke, Face to Face: Three Centuries of Artists' Self- Portraiture, (Liverpool: Walker Art Gallery, 1994)

Oil paintings in public ownership in London: North & East. Coordinator: Elizabeth Heath; Photographers: Doug Atfield and Andy Johnson (London: Public Catalogue Foundation, 2013).

Subject/Content: +/-

Content Description:
This portrait depicts three figures with a column and drapery in the background. The woman on the left has her right hand raised and she is facing the viewer. In the centre of the picture there is a child, who is shown looking to the right. Alongside which a male figure in black is shown looking to her right.
Themes:
Noticed a mistake? Have some extra information? Please contact us at curatorial@geffrye-museum.org.uk