Mary Beale (1633 – 1699) was Britain's first professional female painter who painted high society figures of the day right down to intimate family portraits of her husband and children.
Unfashionable for a long time, it is only in recent decades that her work has assumed the importance that she rightly merited. She was both talented and prolific, and at the height of her fame in 1677 painted eighty three portraits and earned the then considerable sum of £429.
Unique for the time was the role reversal of her marriage ; her husband Charles Beale, a dilettante who never really settled down to a career of his own, became her muse and spent his life supporting her work, looking after the studio accounts, preparing her palettes, booking the sitters, and helping far more with the upbringing of their two children Bartholomew and Charles than was the norm at that period.
In fact the whole family combined in support of Mary, who often worked from dawn to dusk in her "paynting roome". Charles mixed the paints and prepared the canvasses, while the two boys painted the sculptured ovals inside the rectangular frames and finished off the drapery after the sitter had departed.
Mary Beale has two connections with West Lodge Park – firstly because she painted the then owner of the house, Sir Henry Coventry, Secretary of State to Charles II, who took West Lodge as his country seat from 1673 until his death in 1686.The original of this portrait hangs in the state dining room at Longleat, and a copy in the hall at West Lodge Park. The second connection is through the Beale family, current owners of West Lodge Park since 1945, who it is believed are descended from Charles Beale, her husband. His grandfather William Beale was married in Hertford in 1586, the same area as the ancestors of the Beales of West Lodge Park.
The portraits in the Mary Beale Restaurant are from several sources: original Mary Beale portraits from the Edward Beale collection of Old Masters, original Mary Beale portraits from the Richard Jeffree bequest to the Art Fund and St Edmundsbury Borough Council Heritage Service, and copies of portraits found in the National Portrait Gallery and other London galleries.