Sophie Gengembre Anderson was a French-British artist born in Paris in 1823. She became praised for her breathtaking idyllic portrayals of children and women, like her masterpiece Elaine. The artist began her career working with stone lithography. Although French-born, Anderson is British as she lived in London for a significant time. In 2008 one of her artworks sold for more than one million pounds.
Sophie’s father was a French artist and architect named Charles Antoine Colomb Gengembre, and her mother, Marianne Farey, was English. As a young child, Sophie was influenced by her father’s surroundings, mainly when they lived in Paris. Charles was in contact with many French artists and intellectuals, like the actor François Joseph Talma. She and her family moved from Paris to a more low-key area in 1829, where they lived for almost fifteen years. Charles’ work was mostly landscape painting, and his subtle and warm palette was an influence for the future artist.
While Charles Antoine wasn’t a professional painter, he was a successful architect. When he was 24, he won second place in the Grand Prix de Rome. In 1831 they moved to London, where Charles worked for Charles Fourier.
In their return to France, Antoine Colomb was well financially, projecting many public buildings. He also wrote a didactic book on architecture that became a standard in Europe. Unfortunately, that came to an end. Charles Antoine had governmental ties, and with the July Revolution of 1830, the family had to leave Paris for good. They faced political persecution, and eventually, the Gengembres settled in Manchester.
Around the age of seventeen, Sophie became fascinated with the art of portrait painting when she met a traveling artist in her town. This was a short experience and was one of the few classes that the painter took. She would continue practicing what she learned until going to Paris.
She had two siblings, Henry, who became an artist, and Philip Hubert, who became a successful architect in New York. Philip kept the surname Hubert that his family used while living in the US. In 1843, Sophie returned to Paris, where she studied under Charles de Steuben, a Romanticist painter. Although she had tutelage, she continued a highly self-taught artist.
In 1845, her brother Henry was born. Sophie traveled to Russia, where she stayed for about a year studying painting and meeting other women artists. With the break out of the 1848 French Revolution, the Anderson family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in the USA. During this period, her brother Henry entered the local art scene as a painter.
Sophie also became known for her talents as she participated in the 1849 exhibit of the Western Art Union Gallery. The painter started to have a considerable commercial status in Cincinnati, achieving many private commissions. She also contributed to the Historical Collections of the Great West with a series organized by Henry Howe in 1851.
While in the US, Sophie met English artist Walter Anderson, who she collaborated with creating portraits. Sophie and Walter got married while she was living in Manchester, Pennsylvania. During this time, she built a career producing colored lithographic prints, known as chromolithography, for Louis Prang & Company.
In 1853 Sophie and Walter Anderson moved along with the Gengembre family to Allegheny, Manchester. The artist moved to London with her family in the next year, where she began to exhibit almost immediately.
In 1855, Sophie was highly praised for her still-life An American Market Basket, shown in the Royal Society of British Artists. She also participated in exhibitions at the Royal Academy and the British Institution - quite the achievement at the time for a woman, as female artists were rarely accepted.
In 1858, the couple went to Pennsylvania. During this period, Sophie exhibited in the Pittsburgh Artists’ Association, and in 1860 she and Walter exhibited in the National Academy of Design. From 1863 on, they lived again in London.
The idyllic scenes that Sophie Gengembre Anderson depicted were a direct dialogue with Pre-Raphaelite painters. The warm, tender color palette and delicate figures in bucolic settings sprung from the same sensibility and manner they were also pursuing. The Pre-Raphaelites were founded in 1848, right before Sophie moved to London.
Sophie and her husband moved to the Island of Capri in 1871, a hot spot for many artists, like John Singer Sargent, Frederick Leighton, Edouard Alexandre Sain, Jean Benner, and Walter McLaren. There, the couple rented a nice little villa and were happy with their artistic companies. She was quite ill but continued painting. By 1894, they returned to Falmouth, England, where Sophie continued to exhibit her work.
Sophie G. Anderson passed away in March 1903, only two months after the passing of her husband, Walter. She built a legacy as a successful female artist as she broke barriers, inserting herself in a male-dominated area, opening the path for many women artists to come.