Sarah Biffen Restoration BBC One's 'The Repair Shop' offers insight into the restoration of a Sarah Biffen miniature

September 18, 2020

Sarah Biffen (or Biffin) (1784-1850), also known by her married name Mrs. Wright was an artist working in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. She mainly painted miniatures and watercolours.

She was born without arms or legs (a condition known as phocomelia) but taught herself not only to sew and write but to paint with such a level of competence that her work cannot be distinguished from the best miniaturists of the time. She had an incredible story which highlights the difficulties and achievements of people with disabilities at a time when there was little medical assistance in an age of superstition, misunderstanding and fear. Born into a poor family, to prevent herself becoming a burden she taught herself to sew and write, using her mouth, before the age of ten. Sometime in her early teens she left her West Country home to travel with a circus, billed as ‘The Limbless Wonder’. Her talent was astounding to all who saw her paint and she was taken under the wing of the Earl of Morton, who supervised some additional artistic training and introduced her to patrons for portrait miniatures, including members of the royal family.

Recently aired, BBC One's The Repair Shop offers insight into the restoration of a Sarah Biffen miniature:

'Art conservator Lucia Scalisi is faced with an extraordinary item, a tiny portrait painted by the celebrated Victorian artist Sarah Biffen, who had no arms and wielded her paintbrush with her mouth. Lucia calls on the services of paper restoration expert Louise Drover to help with the delicate repair.'

View the full episode of the BBC's The Repair Shop here.

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