Home   What's On   Article

Rare painting by 19th-century artist Sarah Biffin, who used her mouth to hold a paintbrush, for sale at Sworders in Stansted



More news, no ads

LEARN MORE


A rare painting by 19th-century artist Sarah Biffin, who was born without limbs and used her mouth to hold a paintbrush, is coming up for sale at Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers.

The 10cm x 12cm watercolour study of feathers, inscribed in pen 'Drawn by Miss Biffin, 6th August 1812', is sold together with a Georgian handbill advertising her as an attraction 'During The Races'. It describes her as "born deficient of arms and legs, she is of comely appearance, twenty-eight years of age, and is only thirty-seven inches high".

It goes on to say: "She displays a great genius, and is an admirer of the Fine Arts, but what renders her so worthy of public notice is the industrious and astonishing means she has invented and practised, in obtaining the use of the needle, scissors, pen and pencil and wherein she is extremely adroit."

Sarah Biffin's study of feathers (53121635)
Sarah Biffin's study of feathers (53121635)

Born in Somerset with the congenital deformity phocomelia, Biffin (1784-1850) taught herself to write, paint and hold scissors using her mouth. From the age of about 13, she earned £5 a year touring the country as part of Emmanuel Dukes' travelling show.

However, at St Bartholomew's Fair in 1808 she was introduced to William, 16th Earl of Morton, an encounter that led to professional training, aristocratic patronage and ultimately recognition from the Society of Arts and the Royal Academy.

The Earl of Morton died in 1827, leaving her without a noble sponsor, which caused her financial difficulties. Queen Victoria later awarded her a Civil List pension, whereupon she retired to Liverpool and later married.

The Georgian advertisement for Sarah Biffin (53121652)
The Georgian advertisement for Sarah Biffin (53121652)

Biffin's story of talent and triumph over adversity is slowly becoming better known. As she has come to greater prominence, the market for her work has taken off – a self-portrait selling for a multi-estimate £110,000 at Sotheby's in December 2019.

Her still lives of colourful bird feathers, rendered in the most realistic way, display the full extent of her extraordinary talent. A similar work to this one, albeit with twice the number of feathers, sold earlier this year for £52,000.

The Sworders picture is from the collection of the late Peter Crofts, a Cambridgeshire antiques dealer for whom it doubtless had particular resonance.

Crofts volunteered to serve in the Fleet Air Army and subsequently went to the US to train as a pilot. Tragically, on March 25, 1945, a month and a day before his 21st birthday, the engine of his Corsair F4U burst into flames during take-off at US Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. He was seriously injured and had both legs amputated, spending three-and-a-half years in hospital.

More than 100 items from the late Peter Crofts' collection are coming up for sale at Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers (53121720)
More than 100 items from the late Peter Crofts' collection are coming up for sale at Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers (53121720)

Under the guidance of the Stamford dealer Major Bernard Edinburgh he became an antiques dealer and, by 1958, was elected a member of the British Antique Dealers' Association. Despite his disability, he was a keen sailor, owning an 88-year-old clinker-built Norfolk beach boat.

More than 100 lots from the Crofts collection will be offered as part of Sworders' fine interiors sale on December 14-15 at its saleroom in Cambridge Road, Stansted.

Sarah Biffin's artwork and the Georgian handbill advertising her as an attraction (53121638)
Sarah Biffin's artwork and the Georgian handbill advertising her as an attraction (53121638)


This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More