If you follow me on instagram and twitter, you must know that I have been obsessing over a turn of the century Victoria artist. My lust for the mysterious Sophie Pemberton began not two weeks ago when I started helping out the librarian and archivist at the AGGV. In the old attic of the mansion, are countless projects waiting for some much needed organization. Because I immediately gravitated towards the old photographs, she assigned me the slightly daunting task of creating some sort of order out of hundreds of photos. Many of the photos document the early years of mansion itself, the original families that lived there before it was converted into an art gallery, as well as historic local artists and their artworks.
Left alone in a tiny corner office with a bright lamp, a hot radiator, and a lovely view of the blustery day, I began leafing through the photographs. At first I was overwhelmed and unsure of how to organize them. After a short while, I noticed that I continued to come across images of one particular woman. While some of the photos were marked with S.P. on the back, other were marked as Sophie Beanlands and Sophie Deane-Drummond. After reading through some books and some online research, I discovered that Sophie Pemberton, also known under her married names, was the woman in the photographs.
Sophie was a young artist who grew up in the Rockland area, not far from the gallery itself. She was born in Victoria in 1869 to one of the first Surveyor-Generals of Vancouver Island and a Hudson’s Bay Company executive, Joseph Despard Pemberton. Because her family was well off, she was able to travel to Europe and attend the prestigious Académie Julian in Paris (I was excited upon discovering this as one of my favourite artists, Maria Bashkirtseva also attended this academy). There, Sophie was able to study painting and drawing during a time when this profession was largely male dominated. Upon completing her studies, she moved to London. Her work was eventually exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Paris Salon. She was also the first Canadian, and as far as I know the first female, to receive the Prix Julian from Paris's Académie Julian for her portrait of Little Boy Blue in 1899.
Despite her talent and her promising career, there is little biographical information available on Sophie. Due to the social pressures she endured, she married and was eventually forced to abandon her artistic endeavours. Some say that she may have been as famous and as appreciated as her contemporary, Emily Carr, had she continued on. For now, I will take it upon myself to properly represent her as I organize the photographs of her family, her friends, her artworks, and of course the woman herself.
If you would like to read more about her, I located a master thesis written by Nicholas Tuele (a former curator at the AGGV) in 1980, another Sophie enthusiast. I cannot however include a link. Type in Sophie Pemberton and Tuele and a pdf will pop up in your search engine.
Until next time.....