Thursday, 10 April 2014



Because I too am busily writing my final essay for the semester, I will keep this post purely biographical. Last spring, I assisted in an archiving and organizational project for the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV) on Vancouver Island. My task was to identify the subjects of various historic photographs and to subsequently organize them chronologically. Many documented the early years of the gallery, before the expansion of this stunning historic mansion. There were also photographs of the original families who resided in the mansion before it was converted in the gallery. One young woman however, was the subject of a series of photographs. While some were marked with S.P., others were marked as Sophie Beanlands and Sophie Deane-Drummond. After reading through various local history books and conducting basic online research, I discovered that Sophie Pemberton—also known under her married names—was the woman in the photographs.

Sophie Pemberton
Portrait of Sophie Deane-Drummond” by Harold Mortimer-Lamb.

Sophie was a young artist who grew up in the Rockland area of Victoria, not far from the AGGV. She was born in Victoria in 1869 to Joseph Despard Pemberton, who worked as an executive for the Hudson’s Bay Company as well as a Surveyor-General of Vancouver Island. Because her family was relatively wealthy, she travelled to Europe to attend the prestigious Académie Julian in Paris. Sophie pursued her studies in 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. Due to the social pressures she endured, she married young, and decided to focus solely on her family rather than pursue her career as a painter. Some say that she may have been as famous and as appreciated as her local contemporary, Emily Carr, had she continued her career.

Sophie Pemberton Little Boy Blue
"Little Boy Blue", 1897, Sophie Pemberton
This painting is currently hanging in the gallery mansion
Sophie Pemberton John O'Dreams
"John O'Dreams", 1901, Sophie Pemberton

A former AGGV curator, Nicholas Tuele, wrote his master's thesis on Sophie. I located the majority of her biographical information in that document last year. Concordia University also created a bibliography that features exhibition and publication information regarding Sophie. Visit the digital collection of Sophie Pemberton artworks from the AGGV collection.

Sophie Pemberton Yellow Tiger Lilies
"Yellow Tiger Lilies", 1902, Sophie Pemberton

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