This will be my last post on the odd historical link between local painter Sophie Pemberton and the notorious King of the Latin Quarter, Bibi la Purée. I thought I had said everything I had to say last week. But the more I reflect on what I wrote, the more I think my comparative analysis of her painting was rather shoddy, even by blog standards.
True, I didn’t make any of it up. What I wrote reflects the facts, insofar as I know them. But I was overly selective in presenting the material, ignoring anything that might have complicated my argument.
One of the chief complications is that we have solid evidence that Sophie Pemberton saw Bibi la Purée the same way everyone else did: “everyone knew him; free drinks were given him; no one was happier than he” she wrote (under her married name, “Mrs. Beanlands”). She even drew a version of the smiling Bibi with the umbrella theme, which appeared as the frontispiece in the same issue of “Westward Ho!” magazine, and which I have reproduced here.
So why she chose to paint him as an unhappy man is even more of a mystery than I first thought. Or maybe not. Perhaps it was her way of recuperating him for the upper class milieu she inhabited, whose deeply conservative, provincial nature would probably have been able to tolerate the notion of a unhappy, dissolute bohemian, but might have been more scandalized by a happy carefree one, thumbing his nose at everything they valued. But if that’s the case, why did she present the carefree version in her magazine article?
So, I’m calling “mystery” on this one. I can’t explain it, and I’m not going to try anymore.
On a bit of a tangent, I want to thank the cultural resource organizations whose efforts I’ve made use of in the past 3 posts, which included the University of Victoria, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, the California Digital Library, the University of Michigan, and of course, the Internet Archive. I’m old enough to remember when doing this much research would have taken days, not minutes, most of which would have been spent trying to get access to the various documents I’ve referred to here, in many cases unsuccessfully. We tend to take this kind of thing for granted now, and I often think too much so.