Cecilia Beaux's reputation in the twentieth century has been somewhat eclipsed by the fame of her contemporary Mary Cassatt. Nevertheless, in 1899 William Merritt Chase was compelled to comment that she was "not only the greatest living painter but the best that has ever lived" (Philadelphia Public Ledger, Nov. 8, 1899, p. 5 as quoted in Doreen Burke, "American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Volume III", Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York, 1980, p. 201). Beaux was completely immersed in the the exciting, and rather volatile climate of late nineteenth century art; she eschewed marriage and children in order to fully devote herself to a career.
Beaux's first formal drawing instruction was with her cousin, Catharine A. Drinker. In 1872 she enrolled in the school of the Dutch artist Adolf Van der Whelen. Under Van der Whelen's tutelage she drew from antique casts and lithographs. In the late 1870s Beaux' name appears on a list of students enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy. Although Beaux later rejected the claim that she studied at the Academy, the pervasive influence of Thomas Eakins in Philadelphia cannot be overlooked in relationship to Beaux's work during this period (Burke, ibid., p. 200). Beaux's first major success came in 1885 when her submission to the Pennsylvania Academy was awarded a prize for the best picture by a Philadelphia woman artist; she would win this particular accolade three more times in her career.
Beaux answered the siren call of Paris, and enrolled at the Academie Julian in 1888. In addition to her studio training, Beaux spent several months in Brittany and made a brief trip to England. Returning home in 1889, she carved out an outstanding artistic career. Her works were widely exhibited both in America and Europe, and in 1895 she became the first woman faculty member at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.