01 Jul Emma Soyer
Elizabeth Emma Jones was born in London in 1813, and was instructed in French, Italian, and music. At a very early age she became a pupil of the Belgian painter Francois Simoneau (1783 – 1859), who in 1820 married her mother, Mrs. Jones. Finding that Emma had talents for drawing, Simoneau devoted the whole of his time to her instruction, and before the age of twelve she “had drawn more than a hundred portraits from life with gret fidelity”.She also became a talented pianist under the tutelage of Jean Ancot.
On 12 April 1837 she married Alexis Soyer, the head chef at the Reform Club. She then turned her attention to portraits in oil, and, with Simoneau, travelled in the provinces, working in Canterbury, Ramsgate and Shrewsbury and gained great popularity. Upon her return to London she produced ‘The Blind Boy,’ ‘The Crossing Sweeper,’ ‘The Bavarians,’ ‘Taglioni’ and the ‘Kentish Ceres.’ In 1842 she completed her last work, ‘The Two Organ Boys.’ She also showed two paintings at the 1842 Paris Salon (‘L’aveugle de la tour de Londres’ and ‘Portrait de M. Soyer’ – Nos. 1729-30). Her portrait of Soyer was engraved by Henry Bryan Hall.
On 29–30 August 1842 she had complications with her pregnancy, owing to fright produced by a thunderstorm, and she died the same night at her residence near Charing Cross, London. She was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London on 8 September, where her husband erected a large monument to her memory. In her obituary, The Gentleman’s Magazine described her as “Cut off when her reputation was about to make her fortune, and when, in spite of all obstacles, her merits were become known to her countrymen”.
Between 1823 and 1843 fourteen of her pictures were exhibited at the Royal Academy, thirty-eight at the British Institution, and fourteen at the Suffolk Street Gallery.
In June 1848 one hundred and forty of her works were exhibited at the Prince of Wales’s bazaar, under the name of Soyer’s Philanthropic Gallery, on behalf of the Spitalfields soup kitchen, and a catalogue was printed. Among these pictures was ‘The Young Savoyards Resting,’ a work which obtained for Madame Soyer the name of the ‘English Murillo.’ Two of her pieces, ‘The Jew Lemon Boys’ and ‘The English Ceres,’ were engraved by Gérard. In Paris, where many of her pictures were exhibited, her reputation stood higher than in her native country.
Two of the images below are a pencil drawing and an oil painting of Alexis Soyer, by his wife Emma Soyer. The painted portrait is of Alexis eating his favourite dish -Chicken Curry. It is hanging in the Reform Club main dining room. The portrait has been lent to them by the owner Elizabeth Bonython, the daughter of Cecil Woodham-Smith, a real fan of Alexis. The third image is of the two portraits she submitted to The Royal Academy after she was married her last painting was submitted in 1842, the year of her death.