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Collection of the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Mary Ellen Best

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Mary Ellen Best was born in York, England, the younger of two daughters of well-to-do doctor Charles Best and his wife Mary. Her father died when she was eight, and left a bequest to both children, guaranteeing in some measure their freedom to pursue an education and not be forced into marriage for financial support as adults. Mary Ellen and her sister Rosamond attended boarding school and were both likely taught painting privately prior to their lessons with George Haugh (1755–1827), a successful painter who exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy (Davidson, Caroline. The World of Mary Ellen Best. London: Chatto & Windus, 1985: 16). Best lived with her mother after her schooling, and they often traveled together through England, Germany, and the Netherlands. Family documents indicate that Mary Ellen was actively painting watercolors and selling her works as early as 1831. After the 1850s, she seems to have given up painting. She recorded her career by pasting a number of her best paintings chronologically into albums; nearly all of these albums have now been dispersed. (JGK)