'Observations' the Mary Beale Collection at Moyse's Hall Museum

A new and exciting exhibition to enjoy in Bury St Edmunds this autumn and winter...

A new one-off exhibition celebrating the work of Mary Beale - one of the most successful portrait painters of the late 17th century and widely believed to be England's first professional female painter, is to be held at Moyse’s Hall Museum, in the heart of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Beale: Observations will run from 23 October 2021 until 30 January 2022. 

This exhibition will be the first time that West Suffolk Heritage Service has displayed its full collection of over 25 of Mary’s original portraits of the great and good (or questionable) of 17th century England; believed to be the largest collection held by any public institution. It will include the Heritage Service’s first public showing of a recent acquisition from a private estate. Several specialist speakers/authors will also be giving talks at the museum. 

Born in 1633 in the West Suffolk village of Barrow, just over five miles outside of Bury St Edmunds, Mary was the daughter of rector, John Craddock. His tuition and lay interest in the arts led her to pursue her own career as a professional portrait artist.

Mary lived during, and in the immediate aftermath of England’s Civil War, as well as the tumult of the 17th century Bubonic plague in a century dogged by religious conflict. 

While perhaps surprising to imagine a professional female during this period, she was not unique. With the assistance of her husband Charles and his connections with some of English society’s biggest names from both the art and political worlds, Mary became one of the most eminent artists of 17th century England with a studio on The Mall.

This exhibition hopes to tell the story of how a family in the 17th century would reverse the societal norms of the patriarchal home to professionally succeed in the practice of commercial arts. 

 Since Richard Jeffree and Elizabeth Walsh’s exhibition ‘The Excellent Mrs Mary Beale’ in 1976 and Tabitha Barber’s exhibition at the Geffrye Museum in 1999,  Mary Beale’s star has been rising and today is very definitely prominent in the firmament. In 1991 Jeffree sadly passed away, but generously bequeathed 16 of his paintings to the West Suffolk Heritage Service. These have been augmented with further examples, creating one of the largest repositories of Mary Beale portraits of any public institution.  

Alongside Observations Moyse’s Hall will be celebrating the nastier aspects of its costume collections as the museum prepares to launch a new ‘Terrible Tales’ book, written by Horrible Histories author, Terry Deary, at the end of 2021. From fatal fashion to sickening styles, young explorers will revel in these poisonous displays.

Observations: The Mary Beale Collection will be open Monday-Saturday from 10am to 5pm and Sundays 12pm-4pm from 23 October 2021 until 30 January 2022. 

Admission: adult £5 concessions £4.50 child £3 (5-16 years), Heritage Ticket holders can attend the exhibition free of charge. To book Tel: 01284 758000, 


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