Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ironside, Adelaide Eliza (1831–1867)

by Ruth Teale

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Adelaide Eliza Ironside (1831-1867), painter, was born on 17 November 1831 in Sydney, the only surviving child of James Ironside, commission agent, and his wife Martha Rebecca, née Redman. Educated by her mother, she wrote patriotic prose and verse for the Sydney press, influenced by Rev. John Dunmore Lang. In 1855 she designed a banner and presented it to the Volunteer Corps of New South Wales. She studied languages with Rev. Matthias Goethe and was esteemed by Daniel Deniehy. At Lang's suggestion in April 1855 she and her mother sailed for London. In January 1856 on reaching Italy Adelaide found that among 'these seers of the Beautiful, the spirit of the Pure and mystical School of Umbria became almost Divine'.

In Rome Adelaide began 'a siege and a battle' to become an artist and worked up to eighteen hours a day. She was visited by the Prince of Wales and William Charles Wentworth, each paying £500 for a painting. In 1859 she won renown with 'The Pilgrim of Art, crowned by the Genius of Art'. In 1861 Pope Pius IX received her in private audience and allowed her to study fresco painting in Perugia and to copy works in the Papal collections. In 'The Marriage in Cana' she revealed her republicanism by modelling the heads of Christ and the bridegroom on Garibaldi. In 1862 she visited London where both pictures were hung at the Great Exhibition but, forced 'from over-study' to rest for six months, she toured Scotland.

A proposal to buy 'The Marriage' for £1000 for the new Town Hall in Sydney failed to win subscriptions. Her ambition was to return and fresco the walls of Sydney's public buildings. In 1865, on a second visit to London, she formed a deep friendship with her teacher John Ruskin who told her 'I cannot separate the nonsense from the sense in you—there is a great deal of both'. Prevented from painting by two years of illness, she died of tuberculosis in Rome on 15 April 1867. An obituarist in the Athenaeum commended 'her rich, Titian-like colouring, united to a purity of feeling, that recalled the visions of Beato Angelico'.

Lang's proposal in 1868 to publish her Australian wild-flower paintings failed. In 1871 her 'Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles' was exhibited in Sydney and in 1880, with 'The Pilgrim' and 'The Marriage', was hung at the opening of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales. The first Australian-born artist to study abroad, Adelaide's works were long forgotten in a shed at the gallery. 'The Marriage in Cana' is now in the dining hall of St Paul's College, University of Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • H. E. Badham, A Study of Australian Art (Syd, 1949)
  • W. Dixson, ‘Notes on Australian Artists’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 7, part 3, 1921, pp 158-60
  • Town and Country Journal, 14 Jan 1871
  • John Dunmore Lang papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Macarthur papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under Ironside and uncatalogued manuscript, set 272 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ruth Teale, 'Ironside, Adelaide Eliza (1831–1867)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ironside-adelaide-eliza-3838/text6095, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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