Midlands Art Papers article leads to rediscovery of ‘lost’ Sophie Anderson painting

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Dr. Kate Nichols, editor of MAP and Birmingham Fellow of British Art for the University of Birmingham, has written a post about how their article for MAP Issue 1 has lead to the  rediscovery of a ‘lost’ Sophie Anderson painting.

Sophie Anderson was a ‘cosmopolitan Victorian Artist in the Midlands’ who traveled between France, America, England, and Italy. Significantly, she became one of the first living female artists to have her art purchased by a British museum, but, as Dr. Nichols points out in her article, today her work is barely known.

Read Dr. Nichol’s post below.

Sophie Anderson, 'Scandal in the Harem' (1877)
Sophie Anderson, ‘Scandal in the Harem’ (1877, private collection)

My article for MAP Issue 1 explored the variety of paintings produced by Victorian artist Sophie Anderson, and the collection and display of her paintings – 5 of which belong to public collections in the Midlands (Birmingham Museums Trust, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester). Anderson was one of the earliest living female artists to have her paintings purchased by public-funded museums in Britain.

In the article I briefly discussed Anderson’s painting Scandal in the Harem (1877), which, until about a month ago, was regarded as untraced. However, I’ve recently been contacted by a private collector, whose family have owned this painting for decades – likely since the 1950s. Previously, the only known image of this painting was a black and white engraving from The Graphic but now we can reproduce it here in all its brilliant colours.

This painting is significant. Anderson has – like many nineteenth-century artists who are women – been associated primarily with images of childhood; the ‘rediscovery’ of this work emphasises the diversity of her artistic output. Exhibition records suggest that Anderson painted a number of orientalist works, but only two are currently traced – Scheherazade at The New Art Gallery Walsall, and Toklihili: The Young Indian Princess at The Art Gallery of Hamilton in Canada.

Sophie Anderson, 'Scheherazade' (undated, New Art Gallery Walsall)
Sophie Anderson, ‘Scheherazade’ (undated, New Art Gallery Walsall)
Sophie Anderson, 'Toklihili: The Young Indian Princess' (undated, The Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Collection, Art Gallery of Hamilton)
Sophie Anderson, ‘Toklihili: The Young Indian Princess’ (undated, The Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Collection, Art Gallery of Hamilton)









Neither of these paintings – unlike Scandal in the Harem – have a known date; but the similarity in models, colours and props indicates that these two works in public collections may well hail from the 1870s too. Scandal in the Harem can be securely connected to the period when Anderson was working in Capri – which suggests that the models for this, and perhaps Anderson’s other orientalist paintings – may well have been Italian. More broadly, the painting provides an new example of the ways in which European women contributed to ideas about a generalised, stereotyped ‘East’.

Author: Cai Lyons

I am a PhD student in the Department of Art History at the University of Birmingham.

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