To me Puritan = Bonnets + Salem Witch Trial + Rules. To say the least, Social Studies wasn’t my strong subject. Memorization was never my thing. Apparently, all Puritans weren’t super religious a-holes. Some of them were cultured and extremely talented. Mary Beale was one such Puritan. The girl had skills. She was a beast with a paintbrush.
Mary Beale, born Mary Cradock, was the daughter of John Cradock, a Puritan clergyman in Barrow, Suffolk, England. His beautiful baby girl entered the world in 1633. John immediately recognized his daughter’s passion for painting and introduced her to Robert Walker, an artist friend of the family. He began to formally train Mary in the art of painting.
In 1652, at the age of 18, Mary married Charles Beale. Charles was a cloth merchant from London who also dabbled in painting. Around 1654 Mary relocated to Charles’ hometown. Once there she embarked on her professional painting career. Her area of expertise? Portraits. Her skills earned her a place in William Sanderson’s drawing manual, The Use of the Pen and Pensil.
The Beales moved to Allbrook, Hampshire with their two young sons in 1665. The move was a result of a combination of Charles’ recent unemployment and the Great Plague of London. For the next five years the family made a two-story timber building their home. Mary’s studio was also housed inside.
Mary returned to London in 1670 and established a studio in Pall Mall. She was now the breadwinner and employed her husband as her bookkeeper and paint mixer. According to Charles’ notes, 1677 was a busy year for Mary. In that single year, she had 83 jobs. Charles was madly in love with Mary. He often referred to her as ‘Dearest Heart.’ He remained her loyal employee and lover until her death in 1699.
Although Mary’s biography is brief and general, she made a lasting impact on the art world. She was a rebel of her time. Portraiture wasn’t a major art form at the time, but Mary took it and made it her own. She became one of the most influential artists of the 17th century and has been described as the first professional female English painter.
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