Jeffrey Smart – The Steps

Obsessed with perfection in his highly geometric paintings, Australian artist Jeffrey Smart was known for his still, urban landscapes.

The Steps is a representative painting of Smart’s, with its emphasis on the geometry of the climbing staircase, the overcast sky and the lonely, contemplative woman dressed in yellow at the top. Notice how bright the stairs are, in spite of the gloomy clouds. It gives us some hope and warmth, in what could have been a far more desolate scene. The most intriguing element of the painting is the blue garment at the bottom of the stairs. It almost begs us to make up a story to justify its presence there.

Jeffrey Smart - The Steps
Jeffrey Smart – The Steps

With the vantage point at the bottom of the stairs, one might feel overwhelmed by the arduous climb that needs to be taken. Perhaps the reward for the climb is contemplation – like for the woman in yellow – or freedom, as suggested by the birds flying in the sky. It is a lonely journey, nonetheless.

It would be a mistake to try to read too much into the Australian’s work, as he cared far more about composition than he did about meaning. The woman on the staircase is more a scaling trick to make the staircase look even more imposing and towering; it’s not necessarily a reflection on the alienation and loneliness of people amid an urbanized environment. We’re free to make our own interpretations, of course, but just be wary of assuming that Smart wanted us to think one way or another.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. What a painting. I mistook it for a photograph for a moment. The detail, the composition as you put it.
    I also loved your essay. Especially the second last paragraph. You write so well. Keep writing. !!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gabriela says:

      Thank you so much! It means a lot coming from you. That resemblance to a photo is due to his Hyper-realistic style. I should edit that in there.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That reminds me of the Tower of Babel
    So high high into the sky, but the sky is covered with thick clouds


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gabriela says:

      Thank you, Julia. I’m always curious to hear what other associations these artworks spring to mind.


  3. Eric Wayne says:

    Yes, a wonderful painting and the brilliant blue garment is the cherry on top. Incidentally, you should be able to make images clickable to open in a new tab and fill the screen. This way readers can see the whole image without scrolling.

    I find the shadow of the wall is particularly impressive, and the variegated surfaces of the stairs. The sun on them makes me want to be there, sit on them, climb up, and look out as the woman in yellow is doing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gabriela says:

      Arrgh, I haven’t been able to make them clickable yet. I’ll google some more… It frustrates me too.

      Smart was pretty preoccupied by architecture and he loved using stairs in his paintings. They’re wonderfully depicted here. I like that warm light too.


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