Born in Philadelphia, Beaux studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and at the Académie Julian in Paris. She was later appointed to the faculty at the Pennsylvania Academy, becoming their first full-time female instructor.
Beaux’s success as a portrait painter rested on her keen sense of color, texture, and composition, as well as her ability to capture the essence of the sitter.
Mrs. Addison C. Harris was one of the first presidents of the Art Association of Indianapolis, the forerunner of the IMA. Mrs. Harris is posed in a relaxed yet dignified manner in front of an alpine scene, probably a painted screen belonging to the artist.
Cecilia Beaux: Society Portraitist of the Gilded Age
Raised in Philadelphia by her maternal relatives, Cecilia Beaux exhibited talent at an early age. She enrolled in a private painting class for women at age twenty at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and then traveled to Paris to study at the Académie Julian. She was later appointed to the faculty of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, becoming their first full time woman instructor. After returning to America in 1889, Beaux settled in New York City, setting up a studio in Washington Square. She became a celebrity, and socialized with prominent individuals. The success of her society portraits rested on Beaux’s ability to convey a keen sense of color, texture, and composition, and the talent to capture the essence of her sitter. She had a vibrant, fluid style reminiscent of Impressionism, but Beaux staunchly maintained her artistic independence from any specific movement.
The portrait of Mrs. Harris was painted in Beaux’s studio. The alpine backdrop probably derives from a painted screen belonging to the artist. The broad, skillful brushwork was well suited for transcribing the diaphanous veil of the sitter’s hat and dress. Beaux’s proven ability to select comfortable poses, and her straightforward approach to her subject, produced a dignified, yet sympathetic portrait. The portrait was painted at the request of the Board of Directors of the Art Association of Indianapolis, who were eager to acquire a fine example of the renowned Cecilia Beaux’s work and to honor Mrs. Harris’s service. Mrs. Harris was one of the original incorporators of the Art Association. She held the post of recording secretary from 1883 to 1889 and served as its president from 1904 to 1907, the period in which the John Herron Art Institute was planned and erected.
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