Julian ASHTON, not titled [Hordern Stairs, Woolloomooloo]. Enlarge 1 /1


Alderstone, England 1851 – Bondi, New South Wales, Australia 1942

  • France 1869
  • Australia from 1878

not titled [Hordern Stairs, Woolloomooloo]. [(Hordern Steps, Woolloomooloo)] c.1885 Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, watercolours, painting in watercolour, gouache, pen and ink and brush and ink Support: paper

Primary Insc: no inscriptions.
Dimensions: image 67.0 h x 46.4 w cm sheet 67.0 h x 46.4 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1971
Accession No: NGA 71.95
  • Purchased by the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board (C.A.A.B.], from Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, July 1971;
  • From the exhibition, 'Winter exhibition 1971: Recent acquisitions of paintings and sculpture', Melbourne: Joseph Brown Gallery, 10-30 June, cat. no., 10, (illustrated).

A well-dressed lady takes a late morning stroll on a bright day, walking down the Hordern Stairs in Woolloomooloo. The stairs were named after Edward Hordern, a local resident, to commemorate his term of office with the Sydney Council.

By contrasting the bleached yellow ochre of the sandstone with distant foliage and darkened shadows, Julian Ashton accentuated the brightness of the sunlight and the clearness of the sky. His heavy use of gouache also highlighted areas of the sandstone and stairs. The detail of the plants in the foreground almost frames part of the work in a decorative style similar to many of the illustrations found in the PicturesqueAtlas of Australasia, a publicationfor which Ashton worked as an artist from 1883–5. The use of the colour red in the parasol to highlight the figure in the landscape was a compositional device often used in paintings of the time.

Ashton, who was trained as a painter and illustrator in London, arrived in Melbourne in 1878 to work as an artist for the Illustrated Australian News. He moved to Sydney in 1883 and was soon charmed by its winding streets and picturesque buildings. He later founded an art school there, where he encouraged students to sketch outdoors and focused on drawing as a basis for art. Ashton soon became influential in the Sydney art scene, as a teacher and as a trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales (1889–99). His emphasis on placing drawing above painterly values had an impact on art in Sydney for many years.

Ron Ramsey

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002