Mary Beth McKenzie: Contemporary Realism

Mary Beth McKenzie is an original. She is a “realist” who uses representation in a way that is sensitive, delicate and very strong, and entirely her own.

McKenzie says of her paintings, “I always work directly from life, partly because I really enjoy having an interaction with the person in front of me but also because I love having a direct response to shape and color. … When I paint someone, I am less concerned with likeness than with the character or spirit of that person.” The novelist Howard Fast, writing about her portraits, loved that she found “the soul and heart of her subject and turned it into paint.”

Fast and his wife purchased a number of her paintings. Describing her painting Marble Fireplace, he said, “Somehow… Ms. McKenzie conveys the inner life of her subject in a manner no photographer can match. She has not simply continued the tradition of realist painting; she has explored it and raised it to new heights.“

Here is a selection of her portraits, all done in oil, and some of the monotypes she did of the Big Apple Circus (acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 2005). But first I must share my favorite of the quotations on her website:

“Cats sleep in a state of total abandon, and I find that state very interesting in people as well.”


Self Standing
50 x 40 inches



Marble Fireplace
56 x 40 inches



64 x 48 inches



44 x 42 inches


Mirror Image
51 x 40 inches



60 x 50 inches


Pregnant Nude
50 x 40 inches



Nude from the Back
82 x 45 inches



Circus Series from the Big Apple Circus in New York, 2002.





Mary Beth McKenzie studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Cooper School, Cleveland; The Art Students League and the National Academy School of Fine Arts. She has had solo exhibitions at the National Arts Club; the FAR Gallery, NY; Frank Caro Gallery, NY; The Joseph Keiffer Gallery, NY and Union County College, NJ. Her work is found in many museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the National Museum of American Art, Washington DC; The Brooklyn Museum of Art; the Museum of the City of New York; the National Museum for Women in the Arts, Washington DC; The New York Historical Society, as well as the National Academy Museum. McKenzie is author of A Painterly Approach, Watson-Guptil, 1987.


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