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Mary Beale is one of the earliest professional female artists active in Britain and probably the best-documented painter of the 17th century. This intimate sketch shows her elder son Bartholomew Beale (1656-1709) at around four years of age. In the 1670s Bartholomew worked as a studio assistant to his mother but by 1680 had abandoned painting to study medicine at Cambridge, later practising as a physician in Coventry. The technique of producing oil sketches on primed paper, rather than sketching in chalk on paper or in paint on canvas, is unusual and characteristic of Mary Beale’s early work.

October 2013