(b. 1633, Barrow, d. 1699, London)


English painter, part of a family of painters. She was the daughter of the Rev. John Cradock (?1595-1654), rector of Barrow and an amateur still-life painter. She may have studied painting under Robert Walker. In 1654 she married Charles Beale (1631-1705) who had a keen interest in painting techniques and artists' materials and who had a small but choice art collection. Mary Beale set up a 'paynting room' in their house in Fleet Street, London, where the Beales attracted a lively intellectual circle including Thomas Flatman, the poet and divine Samuel Woodforde, John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Bishop Edward Stillingfleet. By 1660 Mary Beale had not only given birth to two sons, Bartholomew and Charles but had already gained some reputation as an artist. At this period she painted the rather rudimentary Beale Family (c. 1662; London, Geffrye Museum), her earliest known work. Her early influences seem to have included Robert Walker, the Commonwealth portraitist, and the miniaturist Thomas Flatman.

In 1670 it was decided that she would establish herself as a professional artist; accordingly, she set up a studio in their rented house in Pall Mall. Few women were employed as artists in this period, and her career could only have been undertaken with her husband's encouragement. She soon attracted a wide clientele from among the gentry and aristocracy, and from their own distinguished circle of friends.

Of great assistance to Mary Beale's career was the friendship and support of Sir Peter Lely who, as the court painter, already exerted a prevailing influence on her mature style before their acquaintance.

By 1681 Mary Beale's commissions were beginning to diminish but she busied herself with producing pictures for study and improvement. These informal studies are among her finest works, showing that, when not dependent on laborious commissions and the influence of Lely, she was an artist of individuality, sensitivity, and charm.

Mary Beale's son, Charles Beale (1660-c. 1714) was also a painter.