Observations: The Mary Beale Collection

We were so excited about this exhibition that we visited it as soon as the doors opened!

It is only in recent years that the appreciation of Mary Beale and her artwork has increased. This year, the art world was sent into a frenzy when a sleeper portrait of her son, Bartholomew, appeared at a Colchester Auction House as Italian School. It eventually sold for £100,000 and in doing so, demonstrated how the appeal of Beale’s portraits is increasingly attracting collectors. This exhibition, at Moyse’s Hall in Bury St. Edmunds, has certainly come at the right time and we hope that it introduces Mary’s incredible talent to a whole new audience!

The Life of Mary Beale

Mary Cradock was born in 1633, in the small Suffolk village of Barrow near Bury St. Edmunds, where her father was the local rector. Mary married Charles Beale around 1651/2, with whom she had three sons, of which only two survived infancy. Her husband assisted in her artistic endeavors and his connections meant that she became rather successful.

According to scholar, Helen Draper, Mary ‘established an independent commercial studio, maintaining it successfully for more than twenty years without formal training, court patronage, or guild affiliation’. This fact is made even more impressive when we take into consideration that she was a woman working in a man’s world.

Mary’s entire family was involved in creating art and Charles Junior even went on to train in painting miniatures.

Included are a number of her greatest works, including three self-portraits and some extremely charming paintings of her husband and sons.

There were so many beautiful works, it was hard to choose our favourite!

The Exhibition

The exhibition is now open until the 30th January 2022, and tickets can be bought here. If you are able to, we really recommend seeing the paintings with your own eyes and in doing so, supporting the museum’s conservation of Mary’s beautiful works!



Draper, Helen, ‘Mary Beale and Art’s Lost Laborers: Women Painter Stainers’, Early Modern Women, 10.1 (2015), 141-151

Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in Suffolk, (London: Public Catalogue Foundation, 2005)

Waterhouse, Ellis, The Dictionary of 16th & 17th century British Painters, (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collector’s Club, 1988)

Women by women: Catalogue 2009, (Bury St. Edmunds: Moyse’s Hall Museum, 2009)