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Cecilia Beaux, American Figure Painter

May 12 - September 9, 2007


Organized and presented by The High Museum of Art, "Cecilia Beaux, American Figure Painter" is the most comprehensive critical examination of the internationally acclaimed figure painter's work in more than 30 years. The exhibition, which opens in Atlanta on May 12, 2007, illuminates Cecilia Beaux's work by exploring issues of gender, class and the importance of place in relation to her identity and reputation as the leading female artist working in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century (1855-1942). "Cecilia Beaux" features approximately 85 works, including oils, works on paper and decorative objects, and will be on view in Atlanta through September 9, 2007; it will subsequently travel to the Tacoma Art Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. (right: Cecilia Beaux, Sita and Sarita (detail), 1893, oil on canvas, 37 3/8 x 28 1/8 inches. Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Photogaph courtesy Réunion des Musées Nationaux Art Resource, N.Y. Photogaphy by René-Gabriel Ojéda)

Organized chronologically, the retrospective surveys Beaux's 40-year career -- from her early years in Philadelphia to her studies in France and her later activities in New York and Cape Ann, Mass. -- "Cecilia Beaux" also traces aspects of the artist's colorful biography and relationships with key historical figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, Henry James, Ida Tarbell and the World War I Allied leaders Cardinal Mercier and Georges Clemenceau.

"In the tradition of the High's fresh investigations of Norman Rockwell, James McNeill Whistler and Andrew Wyeth, we believe this exhibition will reposition Cecilia Beaux and her work in the history of American art," said Sylvia Yount, Margaret and Terry Stent Curator of American Art, High Museum of Art and organizing curator of the exhibition. "We are eager to acquaint our audiences with Beaux's successful career in an effort to nurture appreciation for a wide range of American art."

The exhibition features Beaux's highly regarded portraits in the context of her commercial and student works and figure paintings, as well as landscape and still-life compositions. Beaux's sitters were drawn from the public realm -- academia, business, organized religion, politics and high society -- and many were personal acquaintances. These circles frequently overlapped, permitting Beaux's selective approach to commissions. As she once observed, "It doesn't pay to paint everybody." Prominent subjects included Flora Whitney, Richard Watson Gilder, Ida Tarbell and Theodore Roosevelt.

Also featured in the exhibition are two works in the High's permanent collection. "Half-Tide, Annisquam River," ca. 1905, a view from Beaux's summer home and studio, Green Alley, is a rare example of her landscape work. "Philadelphia Sketchbook," ca. 1872, contains 24 graphite and black Conté crayon drawings. It is Beaux's earliest extant sketchbook, produced around the time of her first formal drawing lessons with the Philadelphia-based Dutch artist Adolf van der Wielen.


Cecilia Beaux

In her lifetime, Beaux was considered by many to be the artistic equal of John Singer Sargent. In 1933 Beaux received from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt a gold medal from the women's fraternal organization Chi Omega, an award that honored American women for cultural contributions on the international stage. Her name also appeared on numerous lists of "greatest living American women." Since then, more experimental women artists, such as her fellow Pennsylvania Academy alumna Mary Cassatt, as well as Georgia O'Keeffe, have eclipsed her reputation.

Born in Philadelphia in 1855, Beaux studied privately with the Dutch artist Adolf van der Wielen and the American painter William Sartain and, from 1876-1878, took classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1888 she traveled to Paris to study at the Académie Julian. Throughout Beaux's successful career, she exhibited her work internationally, becoming a frequent prizewinner in major American annuals and world's fairs as well as at the Paris Salons. Beaux stopped painting in the mid-1920s, published her popular autobiography "Background with Figures" in 1930, and died in 1942.


Exhibition Catalogue

The exhibition is accompanied by a scholarly publication, featuring a critical introduction to and analysis of Beaux's art for specialized and general readers by Sylvia Yount, Margaret and Terry Stent Curator of American Art, High Museum of Art. Additional essays by cultural historian Nina Auerbach, John Welsh Centennial Professor of History and Literature, University of Pennsylvania; art historian Kevin Sharp, Director of Visual Arts, Cedarhurst Center for the Arts; and Paintings Conservator Mark Bockrath, will explore Beaux in terms of her professional identity as a "woman" artist, the highly competitive international portrait market in the 1890s and the deliberate framing and display of her work. The catalogue is co-published by the High Museum of Art and the University of California Press. (right: front cover, exhibition catalogue)



After opening at the High Museum, the exhibition will travel to the Tacoma Art Museum (September 29, 2007 - January 6, 2008) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (February 2 - April 13, 2008), the institution with which Cecilia Beaux was most closely linked in her lifetime.


Exhibition Organization and Support

"Cecilia Beaux, American Figure Painter" was organized by Sylvia Yount, Margaret and Terry Stent Curator of American Art at the High Museum of Art. Major support for "Cecilia Beaux, American Figure Painter" comes from The Henry Luce Foundation. This exhibition has been made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius. Additional support is provided by the Jean and Glenn Verrill Foundation. This exhibition is generously supported by Buckhead Community Bank, FinListics Solutions and UBS. This exhibition is presented by "Women in Art," which celebrates the significant contributions of women in the arts.





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