An artist whose achievements deserve much better recognition than is the case is Sophie Pemberton. She was a contemporary of Emily Carr and although they knew one another they were from quite different socio-economic circles. Sophie, as the daughter of one of Victoria's most affluent families, received artistic training in Europe. In March 1899 Sophie achieved the signal tribute of winning the Prix Julian for portraiture. This prize, including a gold medal and 100 francs, was awarded annually for the finest student work from the numerous ateliers of the Academie Julian in Paris. She was the first woman artist ever to be so honoured.
By 1909 Pemberton had a credible track record of exhibitions and she had a body of work ready for showing at the prestigious Dore Gallery in London, England. The London critics were impressed with her efforts and her show was well received. One reviewer commented on "her genuine feeling as a landscape artist" and another noted that "it is well that the English people should learn, from artists on the spot, what a loveliness pervades some of the remote portions of the Empire and Pemberton has done her best to show it in the case of Victoria BC."
Given the range and scope of her critics' comments Sophie had in some measure broken with tradition and developed the beginning of what might have become a purely personal interpretation of the West Coast. Unfortunately, she got no further. Marriage to Canon Arthur Beanlands effectively ended her career as an artist. Sadly, the Dore exhibition was a kind of swan song because it was to be the last major professional effort she would undertake, although she lived for another 50 years.
The shortness of Sophie's professional life notwithstanding, she deserves a more visible place in the history of Canadian art. She produced enough accomplished works to raise her from the ranks of talented young ladies with the connotation of dilettante to the level of a distinguished professional Canadian artist who made a unique contribution to her own times and is thus, of value to us today.
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