Cecilia Beaux was renowned for her elegant depictions of America's elite, and along with John Singer Sargent she was acclaimed as one of the most brilliant portraitists of her generation. Beaux was first trained in Philadelphia and later in Paris. While most of her compatriots spent some time in...
Cecilia Beaux was renowned for her elegant depictions of America's elite, and along with John Singer Sargent she was acclaimed as one of the most brilliant portraitists of her generation. Beaux was first trained in Philadelphia and later in Paris. While most of her compatriots spent some time in the French capital, Beaux, whose father was French, felt particularly at home there and maintained French affinities throughout her life. She centered her career in Philadelphia but won national recognition, becoming a role model for aspiring women artists and one of the first women to teach at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1905 she built a summer home and studio on Eastern Point in Gloucester, Massachusetts, naming it "Green Alley." The house soon became a favorite gathering spot for the artistic community that came to Boston's North Shore each season. It also became the setting for many of Beaux's portraits of New Englanders, including this elegant image of Charles Sumner Bird and his sister Edith. The Bird family had made their fortune in the manufacture of paper, and they owned a 194-acre estate, called "Endean," in East Walpole, Massachusetts, overlooking the Neponset River. One of the passions of the Bird family was horses, and their property included polo grounds, stables, and fields where elaborate hunts took place. Charles and Edith wear riding clothes in this elegant image, linking it to a long European heritage of full-length portraits of landed gentry dressed for the hunt. Beaux's format is traditional, and in this commissioned portrait, she painted more conservatively than she did in other works, where her interest in Impressionism is more evident. Even so, her treatment is not conventional. Instead of allowing her sitters to dominate their surroundings, she selected an elevated vantage point, silhouetting them against the shimmering studio floor and walls. The shadowy interior, which Beaux rendered with broad strokes of her brush, seems a mysterious setting for two sitters who so clearly enjoyed an active outdoor life. It is that tension, along with Beaux's energetic paint handling, that enlivens and enriches this portrait. This text was adapted from Davis, et al., MFA Highlights: American Painting (Boston, 2003) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
Lower left: Cecilia Beaux.
The artist; Mrs. Charles Sumner Bird, by 1908; to MFA, 1981, gift of Mrs. Charles Sumner Bird.
Gift of Mrs. Charles Sumner Bird (Julia Appleton Bird)