- Sophie Steffanoni
- About Windsor
- oil on canvas
- 25 x 45.5 cm
signed lower left: Sophie Steffanoni 1898
Joseph Brown, Melbourne, 1979
Private collection, Melbourne
Leonard Joel, Melbourne, 2021
Private collection, Melbourne
Spring Exhibition, Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, 17 - 30 October 1979, cat. no. 34
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.
It is likely Steffanoni was influenced by artists synonymous with Australian Impressionism, including Tom Roberts and Charles Conder and Julian Ashton. There is also evidence of her associations with fellow women artists, including Aline and Edith Cusack who provided much inspiration for young women artists on their return to Sydney from Paris in the mid 1890s; Jane Sutherland and Fabiola Tuomy, a student of Phillips Fox in Melbourne, where Steffanoni perhaps attended summer school on her visits in 1895 and 1898.
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 with 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.
About Windsor as an impressionist landscape with a post and rail fence, perhaps with spring blossoms and sometimes domestic fowls was a subject Steffanoni painted on more than one occasion and contemporary praise for other works can perhaps equally be applied to this picture:
“ "An Australian Home" by Sophie Steffanoni is a bright, strong, true picture; the old house on the brow of the hill among the greenery of cultivation, and the purple hills and distant valley.” (Butterfield, Annette, Sophie Steffanoni, The Personal, Educational and Artistic History of a Woman Impressionist in Late Nineteenth Century Sydney, University of NSW, 2000, p. 221)
“Steffanoni in 20 lets her fancy and her brush combine in a delightful spring blossom picture that makes you long to lie under her trees and let the flowers shower down upon you; they are so delicately poised they look as though a breath would break them into a snowstorm of pink flakes.” (Butterfield, Annette, Towards a Catalogue Raisonne of Paintings by Sophie Steffanoni, University of NSW, 2000, p. 13)
The location of Windsor, NSW 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 an exhibition with Joseph Brown in 1979.
Wollongong Art Gallery
Angeloro, David, An Australian Woman’s Impression and its Influences (A More Complete Picture), Excerpt of Draft, 2019
Butler, Rex and Donaldson, ADS, She-oak and sunlight : Australian Impressionism review, memoreview.net blog
Butterfield, Annette, Sophie Steffanoni (1873 – 1906) Sydney Woman Impressionist, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, vol 2, no 1, 2001
Butterfield, Lewis Steffanoni, Australian Dictionary of Biography, online
Kerr, Joan, Heritage: The National Women’s Art Book, Art and Australia, 1995
McDonald, Patricia, Sophie Steffanoni 1873 - 1906, Art Gallery of New South Wales, exhibition catalogue, 1996