Cecilia Beaux papers, 1863-1968

A Finding Aid to the Cecilia Beaux Papers, 1863-1968, in the Archives of American Art, by Megan McShea

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Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art

Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Cecilia Beaux was born in Philadelphia in 1855. Her mother died just days after her birth, and Beaux and her sister went to live with their grandmother and aunts. Her adoptive family exposed her to fine art throughout her childhood and, once in school, Beaux excelled in her drawing classes and began training in the studio of Catherine A. Drinker, an artist and a cousin of her uncle Will Biddle. From 1881-1883 she attended life classes directed by William Sartain, who traveled to Philadelphia from New York to give criticisms. She also counted the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts master Thomas Eakins among her early influences, though she did not receive direct instruction from him.

Her first major success in painting was a double-portrait of her sister and nephew entitled Les Derniers Jours d'Enfance, exhibited first at the American Art Association, and in 1885 at the Pennsylvania Academy, where it won the Mary Smith Prize, the first of many prizes Beaux received during her lifetime. In 1887, the painting was exhibited at the Paris salon to critical acclaim. Beaux's reputation as a Philadelphia portraitist grew steadily with the execution of several portraits her in Chestnut Street studio, and in 1888 she traveled to Europe to continue her studio education.

In Paris, she joined the Academie Julien, where she received criticisms from Tony Robert Fleury and William Adolph Bougereau. She spent the summer in Concarneau, Brittany, where Alexander Harrison and Charles Lazar critiqued her work, and returned to Paris, where she attended the Academie Colarossi under and sought out private criticisms in the atelier of Benjamin Constant. She copied paintings and classical sculpture at the Louvre, and traveled throughout Europe to view the works of old masters. In England, she painted several portraits of her friends, the Darwins, before returning to Philadelphia in August of 1889. She traveled to Europe several more times in her life, including a trip in 1896 to see six of her paintings exhibited at the Salon de Champs de Mars. At the time this was an unprecedented number of paintings shown there by an American, and their strength earned her a membership in the Societ� Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

In the 1890s, Beaux earned a living painting commissioned portraits at her Philadelphia studio, while experimenting with and refining her style and technique with portraits of friends and family such as Sita and Sarita, of her cousin Sarah Leavitt with her cat, The Dreamer, of her friend Caroline Smith, and Ernesta with Nurse, of her niece, who was a favorite sitter of Beaux's throughout her life. Beaux became the first full-time female faculty member at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1895, and continued teaching there until 1915.

In the late 1890s, Beaux painted several works for which she would be repeatedly honored, including Mother and Daughter, a double-portrait of Mrs. Clement A. Griscom and her daughter Frances, which won four gold medals at international exhibitions, and The Dancing Lesson, a double-portrait of Dorothea and Francesca Gilder, the daughters of Richard Watson Gilder, editor of Century Magazine and himself a devoted friend and supporter of Beaux. The Gilders, and especially Dorothea, were steady companions as well as sitters for Beaux throughout her adult life. In 1901 and 1902, Beaux painted Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and her daughter Ethel in the White House, and in 1903, she was elected to the National Academy of Design.

By 1905 Beaux was living and working primarily in New York during the winter, and at "Green Alley," a home she built in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in the summer. She was introduced to Gloucester by her friend, the Harvard economist A. Piatt Andrew, and entertained a steady stream of intellectual, literary, and artistic friends such as Isabella Stuart Gardner, William James, and Thornton Oakley. Beaux continued to amass prizes and honors for her artwork, including an honorary doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania in 1908. She had solo exhibitions at Macbeth Gallery in 1910, the Corcoran Gallery in 1912, and M. Knoedler Gallery in 1915 and 1917. She had regular public speaking appearances, published articles, and interviews on such subjects as art education, women in art, and modernist art, the pervasive influence of which she eschewed as a passing fad.

In 1919, she traveled to war-torn Europe as the official portraitist of the United States War Portraits Commission painted the portraits of three European war heroes: Cardinal Mercier, Admiral Beatty, and Georges Clemenceau. In 1924, she broke her hip in Paris, and although she continued to paint, she would never again be the prolific painter of her earlier years due to the injury. She wrote her autobiography Background with Figures in 1930, and in 1935-1936, the American Academy of Arts and Letters held the largest exhibition of her work that was mounted during her lifetime. Beaux died in 1942 in Gloucester, at the age of 87.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of the painter Cecilia Beaux measure 3.3 linear feet and date from 1863 to 1968.

Biographical Materials include autobiographical notes written by Beaux, published biographical essays, and articles about Beaux. A lengthy correspondence from Beaux to her friend A. Piatt Andrew of Massachusetts is found, as well as correspondence with family and professional associates. Lengthy letters from Beaux to her family during trips to Europe contain scattered illustrations. Professional correspondents include other artists, teachers, patrons, critics, curators, dealers, and writers.

Writings include one early diary from the 1870s, and a series of eleven additional diaries dating from 1905 to 1913, which record daily activities related to her artwork and personal life. Numerous lectures and essays from her later career are found, often in multiple drafts, as are manuscripts of published and unpublished poems by Beaux. A single sketch, a study for a portrait, is also found.

A floor plan, lists of paintings, receipts, written bids, and other notes document the exhibition and sale of Beaux's artwork. Printed materials related to her career include exhibition catalogs and other ephemera, a scrapbook of primarily clippings related to her early career, and loose clippings related to her later career. Photographs include formal portraits of Cecilia Beaux and informal photographs of Beaux alone and with colleagues, friends, and family members in various settings including Concarneau, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Gloucester, and Malines, Belgium. Also found is a photograph of John Singer Sargent painting.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged into 6 series, with multiple subseries in Series 2:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms:

  • Andrew, A. Piatt, (Abram Piatt), 1873-1936
  • Art--Economic aspects
  • Art--Study and teaching
  • Diaries
  • Painting
  • Photographs
  • Poems
  • Women painters--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia


The bulk of the collection was donated by Beaux's neice, Catherine Drinker Bowen in 1970. A portion of the papers were donated by Harrison Cultra in 1971. Helen Wheelwright, wife of the artist Paul Feeley and a friend of Beaux's, donated Beaux's palette to the Archives in 1972. Cecilia D. Saltonstall, great-neice of Cecilia Beaux, donated several of Beaux's certificates and diplomas to the Archives via the National Portrait Gallery in 1995.

Separated and Related Materials

A sketchbook of Beaux's was loaned by Jeffrey R. Brown Fine Arts of Boston in 1985 and is available on microfilm reel 3425.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts holds additional papers related to Cecilia Beaux, particularly personal photographs. Portions of these papers were loaned to the Archives of American Art for microfilming in 1985 and were microfilmed on reel 3658.

The Archives of American Art also holds the Dorothea Gilder papers regarding Cecilia Beaux.

How the Collection was Processed

Papers were donated in four separate accessions between 1970 and 1995 and partially microfilmed on reels 426-429 and 1369. At this time, nitrate negatives in the collection were printed and copy negatives made. Loaned materials that were later donated were microfilmed on reels N/68-48 - N/68-49. All accretions were integrated, re-processed, and described in a finding aid by Megan McShea in 2006 and scanned in 2007 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Cecilia Beaux papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Available Formats

The papers of Cecilia Beaux in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2007, and total 6022 images.

Photographs of works of art have not been digitized.

How to Cite this Collection

Cecilia Beaux papers, 1863-1968. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Materials, circa 1893-1943
0.3 Linear feet; Box 1, OV 4-5

This series contains biographical notes and narratives about Cecilia Beaux, with notes in Beaux's own handwriting; documentation of prizes and honors she received; certificates of organizational memberships in the Societ� Nationale des Beaux-Arts and the Hispanic Society of America; and artifacts, including her oil palette.

Additional biographical narratives can be found in Correspondence, Writings, and Printed Materials. See series descriptions for further details.

Box Folder
1 1 Biographical Notes and Articles, 1943, undated
1 2 Prizes, Awards, and Honorary Degrees, 1893-1933
(See also OV 4)
1 3 Memberships, 1896, 1923
(See also OV 4)
1 4 Artifacts, Including Palette, undated
(See also OV 5)
OV 4 Oversized Biographical Materials (See Box 1, f2 and 3)
OV 5 Oversized Palette (See Box 1, f4)

Series 2: Correspondence, 1863-1968, undated
1.2 Linear feet; Boxes 1-2

Correspondence is arranged into 2 subseries:

Box Folder
1 5-6 Cecilia Beaux Letters to A. Piatt Andrew, 1904-1936
(2 folders)
1 7-13 Cecilia Beaux Letters to A. Piatt Andrew, undated
(7 folders)
1 14 General Correspondence, 1863-1887
1 15-23 General Correspondence, 1888
(9 folders)
1 24-29 General Correspondence, 1889
(6 folders)
1 30 General Correspondence, circa 1888-1889
1 31 General Correspondence, 1890-1895
1 32 General Correspondence, 1896
1 33 General Correspondence, 1897
1 34 General Correspondence, 1898
1 35 General Correspondence, 1899
1 36 General Correspondence, 1900-1904
1 37 General Correspondence, 1905-1907
1 38 General Correspondence, 1908
1 39 General Correspondence, 1909
1 40 General Correspondence, 1910
1 41 General Correspondence, 1911-1912
1 42 General Correspondence, 1913-1916
1 43 General Correspondence, 1917
1 44-46 General Correspondence, 1919
(3 folders)
1 47 General Correspondence, 1920
1 48 General Correspondence, 1921-1925
1 49 General Correspondence, 1926
1 50 General Correspondence, 1927-1928
1 51-52 General Correspondence, 1930
(2 folders)
1 53-56 General Correspondence, 1931
(4 folders)
1 57 General Correspondence, 1932-1933
1 58 General Correspondence, 1934
1 59-62 General Correspondence, 1935
(4 folders)
1 63 General Correspondence, 1936-1941, 1968
Box Folder
2 1-3 Cecilia Beaux, undated
(3 folders)
2 4 Aimee Ernesta Drinker and Henry Drinker, undated
2 5 James and Henry Drinker, Jr., undated
2 6 A-D, undated
2 7 Leavitt Family, undated
2 8 E-O, undated
2 9 P-W, undated
2 10 Unsigned, Illegible, First Names, Initials Only, and Fragments, undated

Series 3: Writings, circa 1868-1954
0.8 Linear feet; Boxes 2-3, OV 6

This series includes twelve diaries, notebooks, lectures, essays, poetry, and notes written primarily by Cecilia Beaux, as well as a collection of poems and essays about Cecilia Beaux by various authors including Royal Cortissoz, Richard Watson Gilder, and others. A single sketch on notepaper, which appears to be a study for a portrait, is filed at the end of this series.

Twelve diaries contain entries recording daily activities, including regular notes on her work in the studio and with various sitters for portraits. Some entries are quite brief, and others go on at length about her social life in Europe and America; occasional meetings with prominent figures such as Ida Tarbell, Clarence Day, J. Alden Weir, George Bellows, the Roosevelts, and others; jurying; sitters; women's suffrage; and women in art.

Lectures and essays on a variety of art subjects are found, usually in the form of annotated typescripts and often in multiple drafts, filed chronologically with their titles or subjects listed in folder headings. The latest draft of each work is filed first in each folder. Beaux writes of her own experiences as an artist, art techniques, education, critical or theoretical ideas, and autobiographical subjects which are unrelated to art. Included are several essays in the form of letters to unidentified recipients, including a detailed account of her time time spent in Malines, Belgium, to paint Cardinal Mercier in 1919. Lengthy prose fragments, many of them autobiographical, are possibly drafts from her 1930 memoir, Background with Figures.

Poems by Beaux are arranged chronologically, with published poems filed first, along with clippings of their published versions, followed by unpublished poems, titled and untitled. Additional poems are found in her 1868-1884 school notebook. Writings about Cecilia Beaux include poems by Richard Watson Gilder, Adrian Smith, and Adeline Adams; and prose by Royal Cortissoz, Paul Bion, and Eugene Neuhaus. Also found here are corrected galley proofs for an unattributed, published article on American Art that quotes Beaux extensively.

Notebooks include school notes and poetry, expenses, contacts, and what appear to be teaching records. A notebook labeled "Important Data" contains summaries by year of autobiographical data. Other notes include corrections and annotated proofs for Background with Figures, and collection notes by Beaux and others that relate to items in this collection.

Printed editions of some poems and essays are also found in Printed Materials. Additional autobiographical notes and essays are found in Biographical materials and Correspondence. See series descriptions for further details.

2 11 Diary, 1875-1877
2 Lectures
2 Essays
2 14 Diary, 1907
2 Poetry
2 16-17 Diary, 1909
(2 folders)
2 18 Diary, 1910
Box Folder
3 Notes
Box Folder
2 21-22 Diary, 1912
(2 folders)
2 23-24 Diary, 1913
(2 folders)
2 Lectures
2 25 "What Should the College A.B. Course Offer to the Future Artist?," 1905
2 26-27 "The Public and Modern Art,," 1907
(2 folders)
2 28 "Portraiture," 1907
2 29 Barnard College Anniversary Lecture, 1915
2 30 Address at the Dinner Given by a Committee of Artists to Lieut. Lemordant at the Vanderbilt Hotel, 1919
2 31 "Gilbert Stuart," 1922
2 32 Address to the Comtemporary Club of Philadelphia Shortly after Sargent's Death, 1926
2 33 Address to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1926
2 34 Address and Memorial Meeting, Cardinal Mercier, Contemporary Club of New York, 1926
2 35 "Color," 1928
2 36 Address to Chi Omega, 1933
2 37 Address to the Present Day Club, 1937
2 Essays
2 38 "Professional Art Schools,," circa 1915
2 39 "The Eakins Exhibition,," 1917
2 40 Letter-essays Including Letters from Malines, 1919, undated
2 41 Letter to the Times, undated
2 42 "Jean Julien Lemordant aus Etats-Unis,," undated
2 43 "My Aunt and I Have My Ghost,," undated
2 44 "Balthazar's Tale,," undated
2 45 On Beaux's Religious Background, undated
2 46 On Educating Children in the Platic Arts, undated
2 47 Miscellaneous Essays, circa 1937-1938, undated
(Includes eulogies for Childe Hassam and Frederick MacMonnies, "Composite Photography," "Originality," "An Ancient Allegory of Life," and other brief, untitled writings)
2 48-53 Prose Fragments, undated
(6 folders)
2 Poetry
2 54-56 Titled Poems, 1874-1940, undated
(3 folders)
2 57 Untitled Poems, 1908-1929, undated
2 58 Poetry, Fragments and Miscellany, undated
2 59 Poems by Others, undated
Box Folder
3 1 Writings by Others about Cecilia Beaux, circa 1894-1935, undated
(See also OV 6)
3 Notebooks
3 2 School Notes and Poetry, 1868-1884
3 3 Expenses and Other Notes, 1879-1884
3 4 "People Who Came to Teas," 1896
3 5 "Important Data" (1916-1928), undated
3 Notes
3 6 Corrections and Proofs for Background with Figures, circa 1930
3 7 Collection Notes, 1917-1954, undated
3 8 Miscellaneous Notes, undated
3 9 Sketch, undated
OV 6 Oversized Writings (See Box 3, f1)

Series 4: Personal Business Records, circa 1883-1936
0.2 Linear feet; Box 3, OV 6

This series contains exhibition records, a list of artwork, and receipts and contracts, mostly related to Beaux's artwork. Exhibition records include a floor plan for an exhibition at the St. Botolph Club in Boston, receipts and lists of paintings related to an exhibition at Knoedler Gallery, a list of paintings for an exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery, and extensive documentation of the solicitation of paintings for the 1935-1936 retrospective exhibition at the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

A list of artwork which appears to have been written by Beaux is organized by the studio in which the painting was made. Among the receipts and contracts are handwritten bids on her painting "Foggy Morning," receipts for the sale of "The Dreamer" and a magazine illustration, and her contract with Houghton Mifflin for her 1930 memoir.

Correspondence related to exhibits, sales, and production of artwork is found in the Correspondence series. Catalogs and reviews of exhibitions are found in Printed Materials.

Box Folder
3 10 Exhibition Records, 1912-1936, undated
(See also OV 6)
3 11 List of Artwork, undated
3 12 Receipts and Contracts, 1883-1930, undated
OV 6 Oversized Exhibition Record (See Box 3, f10)

Series 5: Printed Materials, circa 1874-1953
0.5 Linear feet; Box 3, OV 6

This series contains printed materials related to Beaux's exhibitions and career as an artist, including catalogs, announcements, invitations, clippings, articles, pamphlets, broadsides, a poster, and prints of Beaux's paintings.

The Scrapbook contains clippings from her early career, as well as letters, telegrams, and notes from patrons, sitters, and other art world figures such as Clement A. Griscom, Russell Smith, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the National Academy of Design, the Art Club of Philadelphia, Horace Brodsky, Thomas Hovenden, J.C. Nicoll, and H.S. Morris. Loose clippings continue the chronological sequence of clippings and generally do not duplicate clippings in the scrapbook. Clippings include reviews and other articles related to her artwork and career. Pamphlets, broadsides, and other miscellany include a broadside of a poem, "Sargent," written by Beaux in 1925. Prints include an engraving of the painting "Mother and Daughter," a lithograph portrait of S. Weir Mitchell, and a Century magazine advertising poster featuring Beaux's sketch of Rear-Admiral Sampson.

Additional printed materials are found in the Biographical Materials series, and additional halftone prints of Beaux's paintings are found in the Writings series.

Box Folder
3 13 Exhibition Catalogs, Announcements, Tickets, and Invitations, 1893-1935
3 14 Scrapbook, 1874-1899
3 Clippings
3 18-21 Clippings, 1906-1918
(4 folders, including copies)
3 22-23 Clippings, 1920, 1930
(2 folders)
3 24 Clippings, 1931-1953
3 25 Clippings, undated
3 26 Pamphlets, Broadsides, and Miscellany, 1885-1943, undated
3 27 Prints of Beaux artwork, circa 1898-1899, undated
(See also OV 6)
OV 6 Oversized Printed Materials (See Box 3, f15 and 27)

Series 6: Photographs, circa 1888-1919
0.3 Linear feet; Box 3

Photographs in this series include formal portraits of Cecilia Beaux and informal photographs of Beaux alone and with colleagues, friends, and family members in various settings including Concarneau, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Gloucester, and Malines, Belgium. Also found is a photograph of John Singer Sargent painting, shot from behind, and photographs of paintings by Beaux.

Photographs are arranged by subject and described in the folder list. Nitrate negatives of photographs taken at Green Alley and snapshots of family members were printed and discarded. Images in this group are separated into folders for vintage prints made during Beaux's lifetime, recent prints from the discarded nitrate negatives, duplicates, and copy negatives.

Additional photographs are found in the Correspondence series. See series description for further details.

Box Folder
3 28-29 Portraits of Cecilia Beaux, 1917, undated
(2 folders, including copies)
3 30-31 Beaux in Groups, circa 1888-1889, undated
(2 folders, including copies)
(One photograph believed to be CB in Concarneau, France with Mary Ursula Whitlock, Alexander Harrison, and others; the other shows Beaux with the Carnegie Institute Jury in 1899, including Walter Elmer Schofield, Anders Zorn, and Frank Duveneck, (front row L to R) John Wesley Beatty, William Merritt Chase, Cecilia Beaux, Edmund Tarbell, Julian Alden Weir, unidentified English judge, and possibly Charles Harold Davis)
3 32 Beaux in Academic Robes, 1908
3 33 Beaux Painting Cardinal Mercier, Malines, Belgium, 1919
3 34-37 Green Alley, Gloucester, Massachusetts, after 1905, undated
(4 folders, including vintage prints, recent prints from discarded nitrate, duplicates, and copies)
(Several pictures depict Beaux outside her home, alone and with others who are unidentified)
3 38-40 Beaux's Family Members, undated
(3 folders, including vintage prints, recent prints from discarded nitrate, and copies)
(Pictured are Beaux's nephew Harry Drinker and her Aunt Eliza)
3 41-42 John Singer Sargent, 1903
(2 folders, including copies)
3 43 Unidentified Woman, undated
3 44 Photographs of Works of Art, Installation Views, undated
3 45 Photographs of Works of Art, undated
(3 folders, including copies; not scanned)