Also known as
Adelaide Eliza Scott Ironside,
Artist (Mixed Media Artist)
Adelaide Ironside was was the first Australian artist to leave home to advance her career in Europe. Her mature work earned her an audience with Pope Pius IX and the admiration of both John Ruskin and the Prince of Wales. However after her early death in Rome she was not appreciated in her home country and it took many years for her work to enter public collections.
painter and draughtswoman, was born in Sydney on 17 November 1831, the only surviving child of James Ironside, a commission agent from Scotland, and Martha Rebecca, née Redman. She was the first Australian born artist to travel to Europe, and William Moore credits her as being 'the first woman in this country who, gifted with a rare imagination, was able to express her ideals in art.’ She was throughout her life supported by her mother, Martha Ironside, who encouraged her career at every step and who remained her closest companion. As was common with girls of her generation she was educated at home, well taught by her mother, at Crow’s Nest, North Sydney. She tentatively entered public life when she contributed pro-republican verses to various magazines. On 20 June 1855 she presented a banner she had designed to the Volunteer Forces of New South Wales as 'a memorial of her devoted attachment to the land of her nativity.’ The Ironsides were a Presbyterian family and she was baptised at Scots Church Sydney by the radical preacher, Dr John Dunmore Lang. Other friends included Sir Charles Nicholson, and Daniel Henry Deniehy. The latter realised that as it was not possible for her to be properly educated in art in Australia, and urged her to go to Europe. The two maintained a close correspondence until his death. In January 1856 she arrived in London with her mother and a letter of introduction from Lang to Sir James Clark, physician to Queen Victoria. As a consequence of this she met John Ruskin, who expressed an interest in her work and commented on the quality of her work in a number of letters. Ironside and her mother relocated to Rome where she established a studio while studying the great Italian masters. In 1861 was granted an audience with Pope Pius IX, who gave her permission to copy pictures in the Vatican. She also learnt fresco technique from a monk at Perugia. Her Australian friends wanted to continue to support her, but she rejected Sir Charles Nicholson’s offer of £500 as a means of support. She was not without clients. One painting was bought by the Prince of Wales, and another by William Wentworth. In the 1862 Great London Exhibition she exhibited in the New South Wales Court The Marriage in Cana of Galilee, and The Pilgrim of Art, both of which were favourably received. Few noticed that the heads of Christ and the bridegroom in The Marriage in Cana were modelled on Garibaldi. She had made a good start to her European career, and if she had more time could have become a well established artist, but she worked with frenetic energy because she knew her time was short. Adelaide Ironside died in Rome of tuberculosis on 15 April 1867 at the age of 35. Few of her works survive. There are some drawings and one major work, The Marriage in Cana of Galilee was transferred to the Art Gallery of New South Wales after languishing for many years in the dining hall of St Paul’s College at the University of Sydney.