Mary Beale, a portrait painter who ran a successful art practice with her husband, Charles, in London during the Restoration era, had two sons, Bartholomew (born 1656) and Charles (born 1660). Both boys worked in their mother’s studio, assisting her with the painting of draperies and other accessories, before Bartholomew entered Clare College, Cambridge in 1680, practising as a physician in Coventry following his graduation. Charles, meanwhile, developed a successful practice of his own as a painter of miniature portraits in watercolour.
In this delightfully intimate work, the artist’s son Bartholomew is shown at around five years of age, with a full head of curly hair. He is depicted in semi-profile, turned to the right, and is wearing a white shirt and a brown jerkin. This portrait relates to two similar studies at Tate Britain, London, of Bartholomew titled Sketch of the artist’s son, Bartholomew Beale, in profile and Sketch of the artist’s son, Bartholomew Beale, facing left, both c. 1660. Both Tate pictures are also painted in oil on paper and the treatment of the subject is comparable to this portrait, with the head and hair finely modelled. The Tate sketches, however, represent Bartholomew’s body in a more summary and basic manner. In each of them he is shown wearing a simple white collar, below which the area of the body is left unpainted, with the ground showing. It has been noted that these small family portraits show ‘a tender commemoration of the innocence of childhood and also functioned [for Mary Beale] as a type of preparatory work made for study and improvement’.1Lisa Mansfield, ‘Mary Beale: pioneer of portraiture’, in Annika Aitken et al. (eds), She Persists: Perspectives on Women in Art & Design, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2020, p. 21.
For more information on Mary Beale and her studio practice, see Mary Beale’s Portrait of a lady c. 1680.
Ted Gott, Senior Curator, International Art, National Gallery of Victoria
Lisa Mansfield, ‘Mary Beale: pioneer of portraiture’, in Annika Aitken et al. (eds), She Persists: Perspectives on Women in Art & Design, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2020, p. 21.