Collingwood Notables Database
From the mid-1890s until the early twentieth century, Italian-born artist Sigismondo Zacutti and his musical wife Lilian lived in a wooden house in Victoria Street Abbotsford just near Walmer Street. The house had a long garden sloping down towards the Yarra River, with Studley Park on the opposite bank providing a picturesque backdrop for painting and sketching. The Zacutti house had a veranda facing the river and a summer house in the garden. Here Sigismondo worked in his studio, Lilian gave lessons in singing and piano, and their three youngest children were born.
Zacutti was born in Venice and his artistic talents were recognised from an early age. At the age of 15 he was sent to live in Algiers for health reasons, and there undertook art studies. He returned to Venice where he studied under Roberto Bompiano, a notable portrait painter, then studied in Rome, and in Naples under Domenico Morelli. He is believed to have given tuition in drawing to the children of Queen Margherita of Italy. He travelled to London, Paris, and Egypt, and was in London in 1884 and 1885. He arrived in Melbourne in late 1887 or very early 1888 and immediately advertised lessons to private pupils and schools, not being well enough known in Australia to make a living through his painting. He settled in Hawthorn and soon obtained positions teaching painting and drawing at Geelong Ladies College, St. Patrick's College, East Melbourne, Cornelia Ladies College, Toorak, and Hessle College, Camberwell.
In 1890 he married Lilian Curtis at St George’s Catholic Church in Carlton. Lilian was the daughter of John Curtis, notable for his long service in the prestigious position as secretary of the Melbourne Athenaeum from 1879 until his death in 1909. Curtis, greatly respected as a scholar in the classics and languages, occupied an enduring role in Melbourne’s cultural life. His portrait painted by Zacutti hangs on the wall of the Athenaeum library. Lilian had been making public appearances as a singer and pianist since 1886, and as Madame Zacutti continued her professional activities throughout her life. Her venues included the Philharmonic Society, the Musical Society of Victoria, the Dante Society and the Austral Salon.
The couple’s first two daughters Giulia and Wanda were born in Hawthorn, but sadly the elder, pictured in the group photograph, died in infancy. The Zacuttis were frequently mentioned in the press, but from August 1893 these mentions ceased, until they returned from London with Wanda in September 1895. Where had they been in those two years? There are also some references to a trip to Buenos Aires, but little concrete documentation.
On their return, they rented the wooden house at 651 Victoria Street. The house was owned by George and Anne Lynch, who lived in a larger and newer house on the same block of land. Anne Lynch and her two daughters Annette and Amy were members of the Austral Salon, a club for artistic and intelligent women, and so was Lilian. They may have met through this organisation, and arranged the house rental, or perhaps the Lynches introduced Lilian to it after she became their neighbour. Whichever way it happened, the Lynches and Lilian, and later her daughter Alba, remained associated with the Salon until the 1940s. Madame Zacutti and her daughter frequently featured on the Salon’s musical program.
Both Zacuttis were members of the Dante Society and Lilian gave performances at their meetings, while also busy at home in Victoria Street producing Eloisa, Alba and Mario, and offering tuition in piano and singing. By 1901 Wanda was attending Presbyterian Ladies College in East Melbourne. As well as travelling to his various teaching engagements, Signor Zacutti was painting commissioned portraits, and a variety of scenes of Italy, Egypt and the local area. The latter include views of the city from Abbotsford, and in the opposite direction towards Studley Park, perhaps from the same vantage point. Zacutti was well known in the Italian community but was described as having a retiring disposition. A number of Italian artists arrived in Melbourne in the 1880s; among Zacutti’s better-known contemporaries are Girolami Nerli, Antonio Dattilo Rubbo, and Ugo Catani. There was a prevalent idea that Mediterranean culture in general, and Italian in particular, could be a positive influence in Australia, given the non-English climate and relatively relaxed society. Despite this, and the popular patronage of Italian portrait painters, few works by these artists were acquired by Australian art galleries.
By 1903 the Zacuttis had moved back to Grove Road Hawthorn. Sigismondo took on classes at the Girls Grammar School in Kew, where Eloisa was enrolled as a pupil. Later he taught at Xavier College in Kew where his son Mario was a pupil and possibly at Methodist Ladies College where his daughters Eloisa and Alba were enrolled.
In 1922 the Zacutti family moved to Wills Street Kew. Daughter Alba certainly followed her mother’s footsteps as a popular and well received Melbourne musical and dramatic performer, socialite and notable charity organizer and her activities were regularly reported for many years in the newspapers.
Like Annette and Amy Lynch, none of the Zacutti girls married; Alba and Eloisa lived in Wills Street until the 1980s. That house remains, but the Zacutti house in Abbotsford was demolished in the 1930s to make way for the Crusader Plate building, an outstanding example of Moderne industrial architecture still to be seen at number 651-653 Victoria Street.
From the evidence available, Zacutti would seem to have been a prolific artist, but none of his paintings have so far been located in public art galleries. Much of his output was in the form of portraits, kept in private hands, and that was perhaps also the destiny of the other paintings.
Studley Park? (private collection)
Melbourne from Abbotsford? c. 1889
|Birth Date||Birth Place|
|Spouse Name||Date of Marriage||Children|
|Lilian Talbot Ursula Curtis||8 January 1890, St George's Carlton||Giulia 10 November 1890 - 2 January 1892 Wanda 1892-1956 Eloisa Benedetta 1896-1893, Alba 1900-1986, Mario Guiseppe 24 May 1902|
|Home Street||Home City||Status of Building|
|651 Victoria Street||Abbotsford||Demolished|
|Death Date||Death Place||Cemetery|
The Argus; Table Talk; The Australasian; Bowman ‘From Abbey to Athenaeum: John Henry Benedict Curtis, 1829-1909’; Deutscher Fine Art Gallery, Australian and Australia-related art, 1830-1970s (1987 catalogue); The Italian connection: Italian artists in 19th century Australia: seminar papers 9th October 1993; Vines, Northern Suburbs Factory Study; Collingwood Conservation Study.
Black and white photographic copy of a self-portrait painted by the artist Sigismondo Zacutti, (P-05986) reproduced with permission of Co-As.It. - Italian Historical Society.
Studio photograph of the artist Sigismondo Zacutti (P-05988), c1892. reproduced with permission of Co. As. It. - Italian Historical Society.
MMBW Detail Plan No. 1302.
Co. As.It.: Family photograph
Co. As. It.: Self-portrait