CECILIA BEAUX (1855-1942)

Cecilia Beaux ca. 1888

Cecilia Beaux ca. 1888

Cecilia Beaux is best known as a portrait painter for the American upper class. She began her career, however, as a commercial artist. Beaux had natural talent and refined her skills in Paris at the Academie Julian and exhibited her work at the Salon of the Champ de Mars. Some of Beaux’s earliest works were for the United States Geological Survey. She was hired as a scientific illustrator, creating drawings of fossils for famed paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope.

One of Beaux's illustrations for Cope's 1875 publication for the USGS

One of Beaux's illustrations for Cope's 1875 publication for the USGS

About the experience, she wrote “Before the drawing was finished, Mr. S. drove the great man out to see how it was going—a fearful ordeal for me. Dr. Cope was a tall dark man… The strong lightening of the moment has blurred memory and deprived me of all detail, but when he had left, my lifted heart told me that all was well. He had given me a few minor directions and was satisfied with what I had developed from the long, rough fragment of brown rock.”

Beaux left scientific illustration to pursue professional portraiture. The demand for her work grew and she was one of the most successful painters of her time. She always valued the education in her early work however, stating, “It was not possible to realize at the time what an immense educational opportunity the stone, to a beginner in art, and the fossils, had offered, and which luckily I had the sense, or rather the intuition, to take advantage of.”