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Smithsonian Magazine | "Letters to Cecilia Beaux..."

Letters from Cecilia Beaux’s young nephews reveal their own family gossip and sweet childhood stories.

For her senior thesis at Vassar College, Elizabeth Lamont researched family letters of artist Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942), the first female full-time professor at PAFA and indeed at any fine art academy in the US.

Lamont writes of the letters: "they reveal the sweet, close relationship Beaux had with her nephews and sister, while simultaneously showing the amusing things that children deem important to share about their lives. And, in fact, Beaux’s sister and nephew Harry were the models for Les derniers jours d’enfance."

Cecilia Beaux's Les derniers jours d'enfance painting of young boy on mother's lap

When the painting in question first exhibited at PAFA's 1885 annual exhibition, it was also accepted into the 1887 Paris Salon—a coup Beaux deemed a turning point in her career. Now museum visitors can find the work on view in Women in Motion: 150 Years of Women's Artistic Networks at PAFA curated by Dr. Anna O. Marley.

letter in children's cursive handwriting "Dear Auntie I dreamed about you last night. I thought you were coming home, we were so glad. I thought a hole[?] row of American flags were on the fence, one for each nail. from Your loving nephew, Harry S. Drinker"
Letter from Henry S. Drinker to Cecilia Beaux, undated. Cecilia Beaux papers, 1863-1968, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
“Dear Auntie, I dreamed about you last night.”


"For my thesis research, these amusing letters implied and enhanced so many intricacies in the maternal relationship depicted in Beaux’s Les dernier jours d’enfance, and they continue to make my understanding of the portrait that much richer. Beaux’s subjects were not merely symbols of a mother and child—they were a real mother and child, whose lives and personalities are revealed in these letters." —Elizabeth Lamont

Henry S. Drinker, depicted in this work and whose childhood letter appears above, gave PAFA numerous of Beaux's sketches, adding to the museum's significant body of work by Beaux including thirteen oils and many study materials.

Read more of the sweet letters in Lamont's article for the Smithsonian Magazine linked below, and then reserve your museum ticket to view their implications for the artwork in person!

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Thomas Eakins, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.