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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sophia Theresa Pemberton : her life and art Tuele, Nicholas


Sophia Theresa Pemberton was born in 1869 and died in 1959. She was raised in one of the affluent and socially important families of late nineteenth century Victoria, British Columbia. At an early age, Sophie, as she was known throughout her life, received lessons in drawing, painting, and music. In this she was like most young women of her class and upbringing. Unlike her peers Sophie decided to pursue a career as a professional artist and by the early 1880's was seeking artistic training. Sophie excelled in her lessons and was soon established as a promising artist with an international reputation. Her work was known to the critics in Western Canada, England and the capital of the art world - Paris. She exhibited extensively at the Royal Academy, the Salon and in group and individual shows during the last years of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century. Her career came to an abrupt end shortly after her first marriage. In the years since her last exhibition as a practising artist she has slipped into semi-obscurity and has been virtually overlooked by the public and in the pages of Canadian Art History. Her modest accomplishments as an artist and her outstanding achievement as the first woman artist to win the Prix Julian, in 1899, are only briefly mentioned in the standard Canadian Art History texts. In searching for the details of Sophie's life I have referred to numerous newspapers and journals of her day. As well, I have benefited from interviews with her two nieces Mrs. A.L. Harvey and Mrs. C. Holmes. Both women, advanced in years, have vivid and detailed memories of their aunt with whom they spent a great deal of time as young women. Finally, I was given access to many diaries and letters of Sophie's by various family members. All of the paintings located for this thesis were found in family collections, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and the B.C. Provincial Archives. My thesis will show the reasons for the brevity of Sophie's career, a combination of spouse disapproval, ill health and an unfortunate accident. Possible reasons for the demise of her reputation are given - modest artistic output, changing tastes and the fact that most of her works remained in family collections. Also, a brief artistic analysis shows the range and scope of Sophie's efforts and indicates that, had her career continued, she might well have developed a more highly distinctive and personal artistic statement.

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