Men often get more praise in the art world than women do. Although we’ve come a long way, and there are female artists out there getting the recognition they deserve, women’s work is still undervalued compared to men’s in the art industry.
With this in mind, it’s important that we learn about women who became artists during a time when they were discouraged from doing so, like Mary Beale, one of Britain’s first woman painters.
Mary was born in 1633 in a Puritan community in Barrow, Suffolk, England. Her father worked as a rector but was also an amateur painter, which could explain where Mary’s passion for art came from.
Mary was never professionally trained as an artist and learned a lot about drawing and painting from her father and friends he had in the art world. When she was 18, Mary married Charles Beale, a cloth merchant who also happened to be an amateur painter.
Charles supported Mary’s art endeavors and stood by her side as she began a career as a professional painter, which was extremely rare for a woman to do at that time.
During this time, women were expected to cook, clean, and raise children while men were out making advancements in technology and art.
But Mary had talent, and she was going to embrace it. After they moved to Walton-on-Thames, Mary opened her own studio and began painting portraits for friends before her clientele began to expand.
During the late 1650s, Mary befriended Sir Peter Lely, a court painter for King Charles II. Sir Peter admired Mary’s capabilities and allowed her to observe him working in his studio.
At the time, this was quite a rare exception. Mary would watch and copy Sir Peter’s artistic process in order to further her skills.