Museum of Fine Arts to Display Portraitist Cecilia Beaux


HAGERSTOWN, MD – American artist Cecilia Beaux lived an unconventional life growing up in the late 1800s.

While most women her age were getting married and having children, Beaux defied the conventions of the Victoria era to focus on her work. Her hard work and tenacity paid off as Beaux (1855-1942) is recognized as one of the most significant American women portraitists of her generation.

Washington County Museum of Fine Arts visitors have a limited opportunity to see her painting, Mrs. John Wheeler Leavitt (Cecilia Kent), 1885, while it is is on loan from the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The painting will on display hrough December 15.

In Mrs. John Wheeler Leavitt, Cecilia Beaux depicts her grandmother, Cecilia Wheeler Leavitt, sitting in the patio garden of her west Philadelphia home, enclosed by a brick wall backdrop, removed from her urban surroundings.

In the painting Mrs. Leavitt looks down reflectively, pausing for a moment in her knitting. Note the large leaves of the bush are yellowing and the spindly geraniums in the clay pots suggest autumn is on the way, appropriate metaphors for passing time that suit the subject of the painting.

Leavitt’s profile pose and choice of chair recall the renowned portrait by James McNeill Whistler, Arrangement in Grey and Black No. I: Portrait of the Artists’s Mother (1871), indicated that Beaux no doubt studied this work closely. At the same time Beaux’s interest in the

human psyche and use of a dark monochromatic palette reflect the objective, realist style associated with the American artist Thomas Eakins.


Beaux was a student of William Sartain, (whose work can bee seen nearby at the museum ) at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), Philadelphia. She later rivaled John Singer Sargent (a year her junior) with the straightforward portraits of high-society figures she became known for after moving to New York in 1900. She rarely flattered her sitters, insteadshe captured aspects of their inner character.

Beaux became the first full-time female faculty member at the PAFA, where she taught from 1895‒1916. In 1924, she was commissioned by the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, to paint her self-portrait for its collection, the first American woman to earn this distinction.

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