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Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 1831 – Rome, Italy 1867

  • England 1855
  • Italy 1856-65
  • England 1865-66
  • Italy from 1866


England 1792 – 1871


The twin sisters 1850 Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, graphite; paper drawing in black pencil Support: paper

Primary Insc: Signed and dated lower right in black pencil, 'A E Scott Ironside / 1850'. Inscribed lower left in black pencil, 'After Hayter'; lower centre in black pencil, 'The Twin Sisters'.
Dimensions: sheet 25.4 h x 20.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1983
Accession No: NGA 83.3303
  • John Ramsay

Recognised by powerful patrons as an artistic talent from an early age, Adelaide Ironside left Sydney for Rome with her mother at the age of 23, the first Australian artist to study in Europe.

The early training from her devoted mother resulted in accomplished pencil drawings of Australian wildflowers, which were later exhibited in Paris. Many of the drawings Ironside did before she left Sydney are copies after engravings, a copyist’s work considered a legitimate way of learning art at the time. This copy that Ironside made of the British 19th-century romantic artist George Hayter’s painting, The twin sisters is typical of her work in this period. Her sensitive drawing, highlighted with delicate colour, captures the appealing profile view of twin sisters – one staring aimlessly into space and the other engrossed in an open book. Flawless skin, comb and ribbon in the pale hair, pearls and swathes of diaphanous material contribute to the fragility of the image.

During Ironside’s time in Europe, she was encouraged in her professional career by the influential English critic John Ruskin and granted permission by Pope Pius IX to study frescos in Perugia and to copy works in the papal collection. During this period, her ambitions enlarged and she also completed several large oil paintings of religious and allegorical subjects.

After her untimely death from tuberculosis, three of her major history paintings were hung together in a memorial exhibition in Sydney, and again at the opening of the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1880.

Susan Herbert

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