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Unique 17th century portrait by British artist Mary Beale discovered at McMaster Museum of Art
Mary Beale (English, 1633 – 1699), Portrait of Charles Beale c. 1660, 39.3 x 31.2 cm (15 1/2 x 12 1/4 in.). Oil on paper, later mounted to canvas. Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E. Collection of McMaster Museum of Art, McMaster University.

HAMILTON, ON.- The McMaster Museum of Art announces the positive identification of a unique and rare portrait by 17th century British artist Mary Beale (1663 – 1699) in the Museum’s collection. For over fifty years it had been mistakenly attributed to Flemish painter Michael (Michiel) Sweerts (1618 – 1664). Beale is considered to be the first woman professional portraitist in England, and while successful at a time when women artists were not accepted, her work and contributions gradually faded from view. There has been a renewed interest and a scholarly revival over the past fifteen years.

This intimate portrait of Beale’s husband Charles is among a few known family portraits done by Beale during a brief period more than 350 years ago. Two others, now in the collection of Tate Britain, were discovered in a Paris antique store in 2013.

The revelation is highly significant on many counts as Carol Podedworny Museum Director and Chief Curator remarked:

Collection research is an on-going process for all museums, but often “inching” along without conclusive results. A few years ago we had determined that this painting was by someone else, but this new discovery is truly astonishing. It is a work of exceptional merit on any count, but as one of a handful of paintings by 17th century women artists in a Canadian public collection, it adds to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the contribution of women in art and history. There is added social relevance today as Beale also wrote a manuscript in the 1670s of her views on marriage and the necessity of gender equality. Such research is important as part of the Museum’s collection and scholarship, and to share with the public.

The McMaster Beale painting was originally acquired by the prominent Hamilton collector Herman Levy (1902 – 1990), in London England in 1961, and part of the substantial donation to the Museum in 1984. It is now on view as a complement to the summer exhibition Passions of the Eye, works from Hamilton and region private collections.

The Museum expresses its appreciation to Lawrence Hendra, Associate Director of Philip Mould & Company, specialists in British and old masters in London England, for bringing the re-attribution to our attention after coming across the image on the Museum’s website.

Appreciation also goes to Tabitha Barber, Curator 1550-1750 at Tate Britain, who organized the first critical Beale exhibition for the Geffrye Museum, London in 1999, and verified the attribution.

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