Sophie Steffanoni had been consigned to the ranks of overlooked women artists of the turn of the twentieth century until a cache of her artwork and correspondence were discovered in 1987, leading to an exhibition of her work at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1996. Steffanoni was a professional artist, working for the family embroidery business where she was the main designer and receiving first prize at the World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago with her embroidered Australian Coat of Arms. She was a member of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales, regularly exhibiting between 1895 – 1903. Steffanoni took painting lessons with William Lister Lister, along with fellow students including Jessie Scarvell, where she would have been exposed to painting en plein air. Her work was praised by newspaper critics, with her painting Paradise Hill, Blackheath, illustrated in the Sydney Mail in 1903. Sadly, Steffanoni died of tuberculosis aged only thirty-two.
About Windsor, painted in 1898, presents a delightful bucolic farmyard scene, a cottage on a hill scattered with cascading flowers; misty purple hills in the background; bright green grass, shown in both sunlight and shadow and dotted with flowers; and a picturesque meandering track, framed by trees on either side of the canvas and leading the viewer’s eye to the gate and beyond, where a house can be seen with smoke curling from the chimney. On the way down the path, there are a ducks and chickens, presided over by a loyal black dog. Farmyard scenes featuring chickens was a popular subject, also captured by Clara Southern, AME Bale, Girolamo Nerli, Frederick McCubbin, Walter Withers, John Ford Paterson, Sydney Long, Arthur Streeton.
The location of Windsor, New South Wales was a popular spot for artists with its picturesque farmyard buildings, orchard blossoms and expanse of fields, along with the river and mountains. Artists who are known to have painted there towards the end of the nineteenth century including Lister Lister and Julian Ashton, who contributed to a group of artists tasked with illustrating the area around the Hawkesbury River for The Picturesque Atlas of Australasia in the 1880s. Conder painted there in the spring of 1888 and other artists include the Collinridge brothers, Henry Fullwood, AJ Daplyn, Sydney Long and Arthur Streeton. Paintings of the Hawkesbury by Sophie’s father, Lewis Steffanoni, are in the family collection, so it is an area she would have known from a young age and one she may have visited later as a student of Ashton on a sketching trip.
About Windsor highlights Steffanoni’s skill in capturing the Australian light and atmosphere in a palette recognisable to the plein air painters of what can be broadly termed Australian Impressionism. The painting is likely to have been sold in her lifetime, as it was not included in the family discovery in 1987, which indicates it’s appeal and importance within her oeuvre, further evidenced by the inclusion in the Spring Exhibition with Joseph Brown in 1979.