Story with Phil: Victorian Painter of the Rich and Famous | Local News

Sarah Biffen was born in 1784 to a poor working-class family in East Quantoxhead, Somerset.

She could only survive her chaotic childhood thanks to the intervention of a clergyman who protected her. In her family, she was known as a “pixie child”. Some in his village feared the little girl.

Around the age of 13, her family apprenticed her to a man named Emmanuel Dukes, who used her at fairs and circuses all over England. She was considered part of the family and lived with the dukes when she was not traveling.

During this time, she learned to paint and subsequently organized exhibitions, in which she sold her paintings and autographs. She also charged admission so people could see her sew and paint. His specialties were drawing landscapes and painting miniature portraits on ivory. His miniatures sold for three guineas (3.3 pounds). However, it is believed that Biffen did not receive more than 5 pounds per year while she was with Dukes.

His fortune greatly improved after catching the attention of George Douglas, the Earl of Morton. He sponsored his tuition at the Royal Academy of Arts, where Biffen studied under William Craig, an artist with important royal patrons.

In 1821, the Société des Arts awarded him a medal for a historical miniature. In addition, the famous Royal Academy accepted several of his paintings. She became a favorite of the wealthy, even members of the royal family using her services when she was commissioned to paint miniature portraits of them.

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