BIFFEN, Sarah [1784-1850]

Sarah Biffen (sometimes Beffin ) was born without arms and only vestigial legs but overcame her disability to become a noted painter who had her work hung at the Royal Academy. Her fame was such that she is mentioned in three of Charles Dickens novels. Such recognition, however, only came after a grim childhood in which she was exhibited in a freak show and exploited by her ‘manager'.

It was due to the intervention of the Earl of Morton that she escaped her servitude. Recognising her artistic talent he paid for her to receive training from William Craig R.A., a painter in watercolours to members of the Royal Family. It was after the Royal Family commissioned her to paint miniatures of themselves that her popularity rose and she established herself as a professional painter with a studio on Bond Street. She married Edward Wright in 1824 and although the marriage was short-lived she exhibited her works in her married name. After the death of the Earl of Morton and the consequent loss of patronage Sarah fell on difficult times and in 1842 moved to Liverpool, living at 8 Duke Street. Although she had a small royal annuity she was living in virtual poverty when Richard Rathbone espoused her cause and organised public subscription to augment her income. She lived out her final years in relative comfort in Liverpool. She was buried in St James Cemetery.


An internet search will produce a variety of information about Sarah Biffen but the Wikipedia entry is probably as comprehensive source as any