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Janet Agnes Cumbrae Stewart (1883–1960)

by Janine Burke

This article was published:

Janet Cumbrae Stewart, self-portrait, 1911

Janet Cumbrae Stewart, self-portrait, 1911

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an7518188

Janet Agnes Cumbrae Stewart (1883-1960), artist, was born on 23 December 1883 at Brighton, Victoria, youngest of the ten children of Francis Edward Stewart, an early settler of Gladstone, Queensland, and his wife Agnes, née Park, of Wellington, New Zealand. The Stewarts had arrived in Victoria from New Zealand in 1870; Francis was chief inspector for the National Bank in Melbourne before becoming general manager of Goldsbrough, Mort & Co. Ltd, resigning in 1891. He was then chairman and managing director of Younghusband, Row & Co. Pty Ltd until his death in 1904. Janet followed her brother, Francis William Sutton, in adopting the surname Cumbrae-Stewart.

Janet grew up in the family home, Montrose, at Brighton Beach. She went on outdoor sketching trips with John Mather before studying at the Melbourne National Gallery School in 1901-07 under Bernard Hall and F. McCubbin. In 1905 she was awarded second place in the National Gallery travelling scholarship competition. Elected to the council of the Victorian Artists' Society in 1914 she exhibited regularly with the society in 1909-19. In 1915 she was awarded a silver medal in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco. Between 1920 and 1937 several exhibitions of her work were held at the Athenaeum Gallery, Melbourne, as well as in Adelaide and Sydney.

In 1922 she went to London with her sister Beatrice and began exhibiting at the Galérie Beaux-Arts, Paris (1924-31), the Royal Academy and the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français (the Old Salon), Paris—in 1923 she received an honourable mention from the latter. In the same year she travelled through the Continent and to Canada. During her seventeen-year stay in Europe she lived at Avignon and Caen in France and at Laiguelia on the Riviera di Ponente, Italy, with Miss Argemore ffarington 'Bill' Bellairs, her companion. She returned to Australia in 1939 to visit her family and remained there after the outbreak of World War II. She lived at Margaret Street, South Yarra, from 1947 until her death on 8 September 1960. Her estate was valued for probate at £13,143.

Cumbrae Stewart (she dispensed with the hyphen and signed her work in this manner) devoted the most significant section of her oeuvre to studies of the female nude in pastel. Her nudes were the subject of a monograph by John Shirlow published in Melbourne in 1921. While influenced by the academic draughtsmanship of Bernard Hall, Cumbrae Stewart imparted a sensuous and graceful quality to her rendering of women's bodies. While her oeuvre includes water-colour and oil studies of landscapes and portraits she is chiefly known for use of pastel.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Burke (ed), Australian Women Artists: One Hundred Years, 1840-1940 (Melb, 1975)
  • Art in Australia, no 6, 1919, Aug 1922
  • Home, June 1920, Aug 1925
  • Brighton Southern Cross, 8 June 1966.

Citation details

Janine Burke, 'Cumbrae Stewart, Janet Agnes (1883–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Janet Cumbrae Stewart, self-portrait, 1911

Janet Cumbrae Stewart, self-portrait, 1911

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an7518188

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Stewart, Janet Agnes

23 December, 1883
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


8 September, 1960 (aged 76)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.