Sophie Gengembre Anderson Biography

Sophie Gengembre Anderson was a noted French artist. Check out this biography to know about her birthday, childhood, family life, achievements and fun facts about her.

Quick Facts

Born: 1823

Nationality: British, French

Famous: Artists British Women

Died At Age: 80

Born Country: France

Born in: Paris, France

Famous as: Artist


Spouse/Ex-: Walter Anderson

father: Charles Antoine Colomb Gengembre

mother: Marianne Hubert

siblings: Henry P, Philip

Died on: March 10, 1903

place of death: Falmouth,England

City: Paris

More Facts

education: Charles de Steuben

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Sophie Gengembre Anderson, noted for her photography-like paintings of women and children in rural settings, was a noted French-born British artist. She was born in the early nineteenth century to a French father and an English mother. Except for taking limited lessons in Paris and Russia, she was mostly self-taught. At the age of twenty-five, after spending most of her formative years in rural France, she moved with her family to USA, where she established her career as a portrait artist. At thirty-one, she settled down in London with her artist husband and began to hold exhibitions in different art galleries. Around the age of forty-eight, she moved to the Isle of Capri for health reasons and continued to paint, very often returning to England to hold exhibitions. Around the age of seventy-one, she returned permanently to England, where she continued to work and exhibit. Unfortunately, few of her works are dated and therefore, it is difficult to determine the time-period of her paintings. Born at a time when the works of female artists were not taken seriously, she was able to establish her career as a portrait painter with sheer determination and talent, becoming the first woman artist to sell a painting for public collection.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • In 1843, Sophie Gengembre traveled to Paris to study portraiture with Charles Auguste Guillaume Steuben, a well-known Romantic painter and lithographer. But after she had only a few lessons with him, Charles left for Russia and did not return within the one year allocated for her studies.
  • As per available information, she remained at Paris even after the one-year time schedule was over and developed close associations with other female artists at the school, picking up further guidance from them. It is not known exactly when she returned to France or where she lived thereafter.
Career in USA
  • In 1848, with the onset of the révolution de Février in France, the Gengembre family left for the United States of America, where they first settled down in Cincinnati, Ohio. Very soon, Sophie became active in the city’s artistic circuit, accepting commissions to paint portraits from local families.
  • Eventually, her fame began to spread and she began to receive commissions to paint portraits not only from people living outside Cincinnati, but also from families living in Pennsylvania. Concurrently, she also began to paint on her own.
  • In October 1849, she held an exhibition of her portrait, figure and Brittany landscape paintings at the Western Art Union Gallery. Significant among them was ‘The Ladder of Love’, depicting Victorian London scenes
  • Also in 1849, Walter Anderson, at that time a lithographer and painter, came to live in Cincinnati. By 1851, Sophie began to collaborate with him, very soon creating two portraits of Protestant Episcopal bishops. Thereafter, they continued to create other portraits as well.
  • Concurrently with collaborating with Anderson, Sophie continued to work on her own, contributing at least four illustrations to ‘Biographical and Historical Memoirs of the Early Pioneer Settlers of Ohio, with Narratives of Incidents and Occurrences in 1775’. The book, written by Samuel Prescott Hildreth, was published in 1852.
  • In 1853, the Gengembre family moved to Manchester, Pennsylvania. Here, Sophie Gengembre began working for Louis Prang, a well-known printer and lithographer, producing works like ‘Prattling Primrose’ and ‘Dotty Dimple.’ Also in the same year, she married Walter Anderson and settled down in Allegheny.
In Europe
  • In 1854, Sophie Gengembre Anderson and her husband moved to England and set up their home in London. Here, she continued with her work, producing figurative paintings, which were not only very beautiful, but were also highly naturalistic and detailed.
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  • In 1855, she held her first exhibition in London at the Society of British Artists. Titled ‘An American Market Basket’, the exhibition showcased her paintings of fruits, vegetables, games and fish and was considered ‘admirable’. Later, she also held exhibitions at Royal Academy of Arts.
  • Although most of her works have remained undated, ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy under House Arrest’ (1856) and ‘It’s Touch and Go to Laugh or No’ (1857) are recognized as two of her major works of this period. According to many critics, her best-loved work, ‘No Walk Today’, also belongs to this period.
  • In 1858, the Andersons returned to the United States for a protracted family visit, remaining there possibly until 1863. There she continued with her work, holding exhibitions at the Pittsburgh Artist's Association in 1859 and 1860.
  • Possibly in 1861, Sophie and Walter Anderson jointly held an exhibition at the National Academy of Design, now known as National Academy of Museum and School, in New York City. Unfortunately, nothing is known about this exhibition
  • In 1863, the Andersons returned to London. She continued with her work, exhibiting her paintings at various well-known galleries like the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of British Artists, and the British Institution. ‘Girl with Lilacs’, painted in 1865, is one of her significant works of this period.
  • In 1870, inspired by Alfred Tennyson’s poem, ‘Idylls of the King', Sophie Gengembre Anderson drew one of her masterpieces, 'Elaine or The Lily Maid of Astolat'. It depicts Elaine’s body being rowed to King Arthur’s palace at Camelot by a dumb servant.
  • In 1871, the Liverpool City Council organized their very first Autumn Exhibition and purchased ‘Elaine’ as one of the exhibits. Thus, it became the first public collection purchase of any woman artist. In those days when the works of female artists were looked down upon, it made history.
  • Also in 1871, the Andersons moved to the Isle of Capri for her health reasons. At that time, many eminent artists lived there, forming an artists’ colony. There they lived in a large house called Villa Castello and enjoyed a good social life, entertaining many well-known personalities.
  • In Capri, Sophie Gengembre Anderson created many well-known paintings. Among them, the best-known are 'A Flower Seller in Capri, Italy' (1875), 'Christmas Time - Here's The Gobbler’ (1877), 'Foundling Girls at Prayer in the Chapel' (1877), 'Shepherd Piper' (1881), ‘The Awakening’ (1881) and 'Heavenwards' (1883).
  • From 1878 to 1887, while living in Capri, she returned to London several times, holding a number of exhibitions at Grosvenor Gallery. She generally chose young girls and peasant women as her subjects although she also painted ‘Shepherd Piper' and ‘Opportune Moment’ which depicted young boys.
  • In 1894, the Andersons returned permanently to England. There they set up their home in Wood Lane Cottage in Falmouth, Cornwall, and continued to work. She also traveled to London very often, holding several exhibitions in the various galleries of the city.
Major Works
  • Sophie Gengembre Anderson is now best known for one of her oil paintings on canvas, ’No Walk Today’. It depicts a little girl, dressed to go out for a walk, gazing pitifully out the window, sad that the bad weather has kept her indoors.
  • The painting was little appreciated during her time. Even in 1926, David Montagu Douglas Scott bought it for only 14 guineas. Later, it gained in appreciation and in November 2008, it sold for a record price of more than £1 million in an auction at Sotheby’s, London.
Family & Personal Life
  • In 1853, Sophie Gengembre married Walter Anderson, an English painter, lithographer and engraver. It is not known if they had any children; however, since the child in paintings like ‘No Walk Today’, ‘Tying the Shoelace’, ‘Windfalls’ and ‘Ladybird Ladybird’ appear to be the same, many believe she was her daughter.
  • Sophie Gengembre Anderson died on 10 March 1903, at her home in Falmouth. Her husband had died two months earlier on 11 January and both of them were buried in the same grave at Swanvale cemetery in Falmouth.
  • Her paintings can now be seen in various art galleries, including Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester; Leicestershire Museum and Art Gallery; Birmingham City Art Gallery; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth; Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Staffordshire, etc.

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