ISABEL DE STEIGER 1836-1927, continuing her life-by-dates: the period from June 1878 to autumn 1882, with Isabel continuing her career as a painter while also becoming more involved in London’s occult scene.

This particular update: September 2017



Just re-stating the Golden Dawn connection:

Isabel de Steiger was one of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s earliest members, being initiated at its Isis-Urania temple in London in October 1888 - that is, a few months after the last event in this file.  She chose the Latin motto ‘Altiora peto’.  She took her time over the learning and exams required for the GD’s inner, 2nd Order and was initiated into it in May 1896.  She moved out of London in the early 1890s and was a member of the GD’s Horus temple in Bradford for a time; and then (in the late 1890s) of its Amen-Ra temple in Edinburgh.


THE LAYOUT BELOW which I hope isn’t too difficult to read.

What Isabel was doing, tends to be in italics.  My comments, and the sources, are typed in my usual Times New Roman.


Lastly, before we start, a quick note on her name: she was baptised with it spelled in the French way - Isabelle - and did return to that spelling from time to time in her life.  For most of her life, however, she used ‘Isabel’ and I’ll stick with that.




27 JUNE 1878

Isabel went to 38 Great Russell Street for the meeting which formally founded the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society.


Date of the meeting: The Early Days of Theosophy in Europe by A P Sinnett.  London: Theosophical Publishing House Ltd 1922; p11, quoted at the on London Lodge.  Though Sinnett was not at the meeting himself, he gives a list of some of the people who were there.  Sinnett’s list includes C C Massey who was elected its first president; Emily Kislingbury who was elected its first secretary; Dr George Wyld, a later president; and Dr H J Billing (see below); but not Isabel. 

Confirmation that Isabel was there: Memorabilia p141, p243 although she couldn’t remember the exact date of the meeting.  She confused it with the event of December 1878 immediately below – her introduction to Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. 

See on London Lodge for further information and the sources.

Comment by Sally Davis: C C Massey and Isabel became good friends.  I presume Isabel joined the London Lodge; though she doesn’t specifically say so in Memorabilia. 



Isabel met Helena Petrovna Blavatsky for the first time, at Mrs Hollis-Billing’s house in Sydenham.  Mrs Hollis-Billing’s seances were known for their focus on the participants’ past lives and were Isabel’s introduction to the concept of reincarnation.  Mrs Hollis-Billing’s spirit guide was Ski (pronounced sky), who when last  living had been a North American Indian.  Isabel attended several seances at Mrs Hollis-Billings.  At one of them, she allowed Ski to describe one of her past lives.  Oh dear! - “my record was not agreeable!” - Mrs Hollis-Billing told her that she’d been a nun walled up in her own convent for breaking her vows. 

Comment by Sally: Isabel had been introduced to Mrs Hollis-Billing by Dr George Wyld.  Other guests at Mrs Hollis-Billing’s soirée to meet Blavatsky were Charles Carleton Massey; and Rev William Alexander Ayton and his wife Anne, who later joined the GD.  Charles Massey is mentioned in Memorabilia but the Aytons are not. 

Source for Ski, the founding event and Isabel’s past life: Memorabilia p141, p152, p243.  Isabel’s past life as a nun meant that in at least one reincarnation she had been living as a Roman Catholic: a nasty surprise for someone brought up as an Evangelical Protestant.

Source for the date:

The Theosophical Enlightenment by Joscelyn Godwin.  Published by the State University of New York Press in its Western Esoteric Traditions series 1994.  On p307-08 Col Olcott and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky spent two weeks in England, at some point between December 1878 and February 1879, breaking their trip from the USA to India.  The Aytons met them during that fortnight.  Sources for this are The Spiritualist volume XIV January 1879: 41-42; and later Olcott’s Old Diary Leaves volume 2 pp 4-9.

Information on the part played by Mary J Hollis-Billing:

At there’s a reprint of an article originally published in the journal The Medium and Daybreak issue of 19 December 1879 pp796-97: Madame H P Blavatsky, by Mary J Hollis-Billing. Despite being “in great haste to proceed on her journey to India”, Blavatsky had stayed with Hollis-Billing for several days “at Norwood”.  C C Massey was another visitor to Hollis-Billing during Blavatsky’s stay; no other person’s name was mentioned in the article.  Mary Hollis-Billing doesn’t give any dates for Blavatsky’s time as her house-guest.

Website psychictruthinfo is the web page of the medium Jonathan Koons.  It has a section Mediums of the Past with a page on Mary Hollis, later Mrs Hollis-Billing: well-known American medium who visited the UK in 1874 and 1880.  Koon’s information comes from an article on Mrs H-B published in Spiritual Notes volume 1 p262.

The gives Mary Hollis’ DOB as 1837; in Jeffersonville Indiana.

At there’s a reference to Hollis-Billing playing a part in the formation of the TS’s London Lodge, but not being a member of it herself.  Information from: Reader’s Guide to the Mahatma Letters to A P Sinnett editors George E Linton and Virginia Hanson.  Adyar Chennai India: Theosophical Publishing House 1972 p219.

On a wiki page at wikipedia re TS’s London Lodge: founded June 1878 by Charles Carleton Massey.  In the early 1880s it was disrupted by the arguments over Kingsford’s election as President of the British TS in 1883.  A group of its members defected and formed Blavatsky Lodge.



Isabel did a painting for Mary Hollis-Billing, of Mrs H-B’s spirit guide, a North American Indian called Ski.

Source: Memorabilia p141 and p141 footnote 1; though without a date.

Comment by Sally Davis.  This was a painting done at second - if not third - hand.  Mrs Hollis-Billing gave Isabel a photograph to work on, a photograph of a rough sketch of Ski supposed to have been done from life.  Isabel gave the finished painting was to Mrs Hollis-Billing - that was the whole idea - and it was never exhibited as far as I know.


EARLY 1879

Isabel was at another address that turned out to be temporary - 63 Bedford Gardens, off Kensington Church Street.


The Society of Women Artists Exhibitors 1855-1996 editor Charles Baile de Laperrière, compiler Joanna Soden.  Hilmarton Manor Press 1996.  Volume 1 A-D p328 entry for De Steiger, Isabel; painter.



Isabel painted four paintings illustrating dramatic incidents in the life of Cleopatra; and two others based on classical themes. 

Source for there being four Cleopatra paintings:

Artist and Journal of Home Culture volume 2 1881 p14.  I saw this report via google and I’m not sure which exhibition it was covering - probably that year’s Walker Art Gallery autumn exhibition.  The report said that Isabel had “just sold the last of four Cleopatra pictures”; and that she was working on two other paintings based on classical subjects.

Comment by Sally Davis: I’m not quite sure which two other paintings Isabel was meaning when the Journal’s reporter spoke to her: between 1879 and 1886 she exhibited several that might answer to that description.  And on the subject of the Cleopatras, I’ve seen quite a few different titles for them:

-           Cleopatra’s Deadly Resolve in the Temple of Isis - as exhibited in 1879 at the Royal Society of British Artists

-           Cleopatra “Personating” the Goddess Isis (what does that mean??) - as exhibited at the Royal Albert Hall spring show in 1879

I did wonder whether the two above were the same painting; but in May 1879 they were both being exhibited at the same time.

-           Cleopatra Receiving an Unfavourable Oracle from the Priestess of Isis - as exhibited in the autumn 1879 at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool

A sub-set of two:

-           Cleopatra Before the Battle of Actium; and

-           Cleopatra after the Battle of Actium

Which makes five!


In Memorabilia Isabel confuses me completely by referring to I’m not sure how many of them, just as ‘Cleopatra’!  For example on p58 she refers to painting ‘Cleopatra’ (sic) in the style of Alma-Tadema.  At the time, Isabel was a great admirer of his - as part of her early training, she copied many of his works.  Looking back, however, she thought his style was not one she should have tried to imitate.  Magazines reviewing the major art exhibitions are no better and maybe some of their critics never did become aware that there was more than one. 


Elsewhere In Memorabilia (p278) Isabel says that one of the set of two before/after Cleopatras was bought by her Liverpool friends William and Fanny Crosfield, in 1880, after it was shown at the Walker Art Gallery.  Their daughter Dora inherited it and still had it on her walls in the early 1920s.  So which painting is it?  No painting with either of those titles was ever shown by Isabel at the Walker; so perhaps Isabel means ‘Cleopatra Receiving an Unfavourable Oracle...’ - presumably before the battle of Actium.


However many there were, and whatever their correct titles, for a few years around the time she painted them, the Cleopatra paintings made Isabel relatively well-known.


Bazaar Exchange and Mart and Journal of the Household volumes 20-21 1879 p81 reported on that year’s Fine Arts exhibition at the Royal Albert Hall, which had 1010 works in it.  The critic recommended visitors to the exhibition to seek out the Cleopatra painting Isabel was showing; and bucked the general trend by giving it its full title (hooray!) -  “Cleopatra Personating the Goddess Isis”.

Building News and Engineering Journal volume 38 1880 p360 another review of the Royal Albert Hall spring exhibition also gave Cleopatra Personating the Goddess Isis a special mention.

The Academy volume 18 1880 number 437 issue of 18 September 1880 p209 put one of the Cleopatra paintings in a list of “notable pictures” being shown at the Royal Manchester Institution.  As the list also included G F Watts’ Psyche and Burne-Jones’ The Music Lesson, the magazine was paying Isabel quite a compliment.


The magazine Public Opinion volumes 41-42 1882 p490 mentioned a poem inspired by one of the Cleopatras, calling the four of them “Madame de Steiger’s celebrated pictures”.

The complimentary poem was a sonnet, by a poet about whom I’ve not been able to find anything at all except his name -  Henry George Hellon - which might in any case be a writing name not his real one. It was published in Hellon’s second volume of poetry: Daphnis: A Sicilian Pastoral, and Other Poems.  London: Kegan Paul Trench and Co 1881.  On p76: Sonnet on Viewing a Picture of Cleopatra:

In Isis’ temple sits the mighty Queen,

Draped in a gown of gossamer and gold,

Through which her lovely form, fair to behold,

Peers, sweet as peers the moon through silver sheen

When misty vapours veil the fairy scene!

Yet o’er her brow some mystery seems to fold,

And in her eyes her future fate foretold;

With anger burning, passionate her mien!


Her dreams of death, of Antony, and all

The splendour of the past! her glory gone,

And throne a wreck, where monarch feigned to fall;

Her chiefs and army lost, her power undone!

Seized with despair, she deigns not God to call,

But, woe-worn, seeks a death her legions shun!


The book was reviewed in The Theosophist volume 3, April 1882 pp177-178, though the review focused on the longer poem The Seer, which had a myriad of esoteric references in it.  Public Opinion, too, noted that the poems were “deeply versed in the occult philosophy” so perhaps Isabel knew his work.


Also DURING 1879

Isabel met Mrs Going at the British National Association of Spiritualists.

Source: Memorabilia p144. 

Comment by Sally Davis: Mrs Going was a wealthy widow who (when Isabel met her) was living in Park Street in Mayfair.  As at March 2017 I haven’t been able to identify Mrs Going for sure.  It seems as though their friendship didn’t last: Isabel writes about Mrs Going as though she was deceived by her first impressions of the woman, saying that she was not an intellectual, and that her claims of being an accomplished mystic were exaggerated.  However, Isabel had cause to be very grateful to Mrs Going: it was through her that she met Anna Bonus Kingsford - see June 1879, with whom she began to explore the world of the occult systematically.



Isabel showed one work at that year’s exhibition of the Society of Lady Artists: A Daughter of the Gods.


The Society of Women Artists Exhibitors 1855-1996 editor Charles Baile de Laperrière, compiler Joanna Soden.  Hilmarton Manor Press 1996.  Volume 1 A-D p328 entry for De Steiger, Isabel; painter.  Paintings exhibited 1879.  Daughter of the Gods was catalogue number 768, for sale at £8.



BY MAY 1879

After several years of not staying anywhere long, Isabel moved into Mrs Charity’s house at 8 Hornton Street, round the back of Kensington Church Street.  She had a studio in its basement. 

Earliest source for Isabel at that address:

The Royal Society of British Artists 1824-1893 and The New English Art Club 1888-1917.  Compiled by Jane Johnson for the Antique Collectors’ Club Research Project.  First printed 1975; V&A’s copy is the reprint of 1993: p130.

Comment by Sally Davis: moving in with another woman artist, and meeting lots of new people who shared her interests, Isabel felt that she had found a home for the first time since her husband had died.  Looking back on the early 1880s, she saw her years as Mrs Charity’s tenant as the happiest time in her life, and as the time she was finally able to concentrate on improving the way she drew and painted nudes. 

Source for Isabel’s recollection of this time: Memorabilia p208.


MAY 1879

Isabel began to exhibit her Cleopatra paintings: Cleopatra’s Deadly Resolve in the Temple of Isis was shown at an exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists in London.


The Royal Society of British Artists 1824-1893 and The New English Art Club 1888-1917.  Compiled by Jane Johnson for the Antique Collectors’ Club Research Project.  First printed 1975; V&A’s copy is the reprint of 1993: p130 with Cleopatra’s Deadly Resolve as catalogue number 21, for sale at £40 - which seems rather cheap.  Isabel only showed one other painting at the RSBA; in 1881.

Comment by Sally Davis: Isabel was not a member of the Royal Society of British Artists:

Royal Society of British Artists Exhibitors 1824-1892 and 1893-1910.  Both published in a limited edition of 600 copies.  Compiler Maurice Bradshaw, secretary general of the Federation of British Artists.  1973: F Lewis Publishers Ltd of The Tithe House, Leigh-on-Sea.  Isabel wasn’t listed in either volume.  The only GD member who was a member of the Society at this time was Henry Marriott Paget.

Dates of the exhibition: Times Thursday 1 May 1879 p1 in a list of adverts from galleries whose exhibitions had just opened.  The Society’s 56th exhibition was being held at the Suffolk Street galleries in Pall Mall.  Times Saturday 7 June 1879 p2 didn’t have the advert in it so I assume the exhibition had ended. 



Isabel showed Cleopatra Personating the Goddess Isis at the Royal Albert Hall spring exhibition.  She also showed her portrait of Mrs Patterson.


Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences Catalogue of the Exhibition of Works of Modern Artists 1879 price 6d.   I think this was the first such exhibition; there were 1010 works in it.  Unlike subequent exhibitions at the RAH, this one did have some paintings by famous artists: Leighton (p5); Alma Tadema (p8).  Future GD members Henrietta Farr and her husband-to-be Henry Marriott Paget also showed some work.  Isabel’s two were both oil paintings: p23 catalogue number 307 - Cleopatra Personating the Goddess Isis for sale at £15/15.  And p29 catalogue number 405 - portrait of Mrs Patterson, which was not for sale. 

Comment by Sally Davis: the portrait of Mrs Patterson was getting its second outing - Isabel had shown it at the Society of Lady Artists in 1878.  I imagine she was hoping for more portrait commissions, but - judging by the works I know about - that didn’t happen.  She painted only a handful more portraits, mostly for friends.

For the dates of the exhibition:

Times Thursday 1 May 1879 p1 and Times Wednesday 6 August 1879 p1 showing that the exhibition was still open, even though the social season was over by now.


JUNE 1879

Isabel went to dinner at Mrs Going’s house.  That evening she ate her first vegetarian meal, and met Anna Bonus Kingsford.  Isabel and Dr Kingsford became close friends, Isabel thinking of Dr Kingsford with “regard and even love” and admiring her as “a sort of modern incarnation of Pallas Athene”.  Isabel decided that she preferred Kingsford’s focus on western, Christian esotericism to Blavatsky’s increasing emphasis on the occultism of the East.  She and Kingsford also agreed that the existence of Blavatsky’s mahatmas was “possible, but not proven”.  When Dr Kingsford began to hold meetings at her house in Park Street, to discuss and elaborate her view of western hermeticism, Isabel went to them regularly.  Other regular attenders were Charles Massey, Dr George Wyld, and Francesca Arundale whom Isabel got to know well.  After Dr Kingsford’s death Isabel was very quick to leap to her defence whenever her reputation as a mystic or as a doctor was questioned.

Source: Memorabilia p144, p146, p168.

Source for Anna Bonus Kingsford as Pallas Athene: Occult Review volume 6 number 5 November 1907 pp296-97.  And for both women’s scepticism about Blavatsky’s claims: Occult Review volumer 45 number 2 February 1927 p78.

Comment by Sally: after Isabel’s death, the editor of Occult Review described Isabel as a woman who had achieved (especially for her times) “unusual mental independence”.  As she was also “frank and outspoken” and “unsparing” in her criticism when she felt it was merited, she inspired as much dislike and fear as friendliness amongst people she knew.  Dr Kingsford was one of the few women in Isabel’s life that she could meet on an equal footing intellectually; and both women derived great benefit from their talks and appreciated the level of their relationship very much.



After a gap of three years, Isabel showed some paintings in Liverpool at the Walker Art Gallery’s autumn exhibition: one of her Cleopatra paintings, exhibited as Cleopatra Receiving an Unfavourable Oracle from the Priestess of Isis; and A Daughter of the Gods.

9th Liverpool Autumn Exhibition of Modern Pictures 1879.  The Walker’s autumn exhibition was always one of the biggest in the country: this year there were 1356 exhibits.  List of exhibitors p121.  And the two paintings which were both in oils: p19 catalogue number 187 - Cleopatra Receiving an Unfavourable Oracle from the Priestess of Isis, for sale at £70 which I think is the highest price Isabel had dared to ask so far in her career.  And p38 catalogue number 518 - A Daughter of the Gods for the modest sum of £5/5.

Comment by Sally Davis: A Daughter of the Gods had also been shown at the Society of Lady Artists in spring 1879.  It was after this exhibition that the Crosfields bought their Cleopatra painting.


EARLY TO MID 1880s to at least the EARLY 1890s

Christian David Ginsburg’s works on the Essenes and on the Kabbala were being read by those people who later became “members of the Hermetic and Rosicrucian Orders” and by members of the Theosophical Society; though they weren’t well known outside those intellectual circles.

Source: Memorabilia p171.

British Library catalogue for the works which interested members of the GD:

Essenes: their History and Doctrines: An Essay, reprinted from the Transactions of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool.  London: 1864.

The Kabbalah: its Doctrines, Development and Literature.  London and Liverpool: 1865.

Comment by Sally: by “Hermetic and Rosicrucian Orders”, Isabel means the Hermetic Society and the GD.  Just to reiterate: she never mentions the GD by name in Memorabilia.



Anna Bonus Kingsford was preparing her book The Perfect Way, The Finding of Christ, which was based on her own visions.  She asked Isabel to read several chapters of it while they were in preparation.

Source: Occult Review volume 6 number 5 November 1907 pp296-97.



Isabel exhibited two works at the Royal Albert Hall spring exhibition: Athyrtis... and one called The Dismissal of Hagar.

Comment by Sally Davis: I’m assuming that ‘the dismissal of Hagar’ was the same painting Isabel had shown in 1875 at the Walker Art Gallery as ‘Hagar in the desert’.  The Athyrtis painting was based on a story in Diodorus in which the daughter of the pharoah Sesostris acts as priestess for her father, and predicts his future. 

Comments by Sally Davis on Athyrtis...  I haven’t seen it, of course, but maybe this painting was the closest Isabel came in her admiration of Alma-Tadema before she began to change her mind about him.  A report (see below) says the figure of Athyrtis was in the classical style; and even the subject might have been inspired by a work by Alma-Tadema: his A Nigger, Grand Chamberlain to King Sesostris the Great, which was shown at the Royal Academy in 1871.

Sources for Alma-Tadema’s painting:

Royal Academy Exhibitors 1769-1904 compiled by Algernon Graves.  Volume 1 A-D pp28-29 though the original words “A Nigger” have been left out.

The Biography and Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema by Vern G Swanson.  London: Garton and Co 1990: p38 says that the Grand Chamberlain painting had been shown in Europe before its 1871 appearance at the RA.

Sources for Isabel’s Athyrtis:

Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences Catalogue of the Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, Architectural Drawings and Wood Carving 1880.  Included in the works on show was a group of paintings from the royal collection.  Isabel’s two, which were both oil paintings: p1 catalogue number 9 - full title Athyrtis, the Divine Daughter of Sesostris, Showing Herself at the Gate of the Temple, price £75.  And p2 catalogue number 24 - The Dismissal of Hagar, also £75.  There were so many exhibits in the wood carving display that there were fewer paintings on show this year; I noticed too that there were no paintings this year by the big contemporary names.

The Building News and Engineering Journal, which had given a special mention to Isabel’s Cleopatra painting in 1879, gave Isabel another boost in its report on this year’s RAH exhibition in its Volume 38 1880 p360: its reporter picked out Isabel’s Athyrtis from “the general collection of oil-pictures”, recommending it as a “decorative, classically-rendered figure” and printing the catalogue number so that visitors could search for it specially. 

On the tale of Sesostris and Athyrtis:

Google’s first responses were all etymological: athyrtis is a genus of butterflies.  However there were also web sites featuring three different pharoahs, the Greek translation of whose name is Sesostris.  See for the most likely one to be mentioned by Diodorus: the III, of the 12th dynasty, reigned 1836-1818BCE - he expanded the amount of land he ruled over and improved the administration of his kingdom. 

Thera and the Exodus by Riaan Booysen 2013.  Winchester: O Books 2013.  In a section on Karnak, Booysen notes that both names are Greek in origin.  A modern transliteration of the hieroglyphs for Sesostris would be Sesoösis. 

Some references to the pair of them that Isabel might have read:

Ancient History, Containing the History of the Egyptians, Assyrians...from Rollin and Other Sources.  No compiler’s name given.  Published London: Religious Tract Society 1842 and subsequent editions.  On p72 in the section History of the Egyptians: a reference to a work by the Greek writer Diodorus claiming that Athyrtis had acted as priestess for her father Sesostris and had foretold his successful military conquests.

Israel in Egypt: Egypt’s Place Among the Anc Monarchies by Edward Lord Clark.  New York: New York Methodist Book Concern 1874.  On p323 in section The Exodus Clark also says that Athyrtis was “versed in divination”, only Clark adds that she was like so many who were learned in the “mysterious arts”.


?SUMMER 1880

Isabel spent the summer in Brittany, possibly doing some painting but definitely visiting its ancient sites.

Source: The Artist and Journal of Home Culture volume 2 1881; issue of 1 March 1881 p93 in its regular column The Roving Artist: short piece on Brittany as a possible destination for British artists, signed by Isabel. 

Comments by Sally Davis: Though Isabel doesn’t specify exactly when she was in Brittany, I think the summer before the article was published is the most likely time.

Isabel betrayed quite a lot of her prejudices in this short article.  She wasn’t actually all that struck by Brittany as a place to paint, though she reported it to be “cheap and agreeable” and a place where the locals “do what artists most prefer - leave them alone”.  Landscape artists would find the coastline and some of the cathedrals worth it, she felt, but there was nothing in Brittany for figure painters: “searchers after ideal beauty will only be revolted”, she thought, by the local peasants.  Isabel was definitely a seeker after ideal beauty in her art.

What excited her most about Brittany were her visits to Carnac, “the mysterious sea of the Morbihan” and - particularly - the “mystic cave of Gavr-inis, where she studied the carvings on the walls and pondered the meaning of their “wandering lines where the eye loses itself”.  She saw all those places as retaining a powerful aura of “dramas...enacted long ago...mysterious corners of the world, the sealed books to science”.



A letter from Isabel appeared in The Artist, the first of several pieces of writing she had published in that magazine.


The Artist volume 1 1880 p250 issue of 1 August 1880; I saw it as a snippet on google (March 2017) and haven’t been able to read what the letter was about.

Some information on The Artist, which by its volume 2 (1881) was called The Artist and Journal of Home Culture. 

The first issue of The Artist was published in January 1880.  It was founded by William Reeves, a bookseller and supplier of artists’ equipment.  Reeves published it and probably edited its first two volumes and some of its third.  While Reeves was its publisher, the magazine actively courted women readers, and also encouraged artist readers to send in short articles for publication - an invitation Isabel responded to several times.  Reeves sold the magazine in time for the October 1883 issue, to Gardner, Wells, Darton and Co. 

Sources for The Artist, none of which specify who was its editor before 1882, when Reeves appointed Wallace L Crowdy for his first stint in the post.  I think that it’s reasonable to assume that Reeves had done the job himself up to that point.

Publishers’ details from

Dictionary of 19th Century Journalism published Ghent: Academia Press: p25 entry for The Artist and Journal of Home Culture.



Isabel showed one of her Cleopatra paintings at an exhibition organised by the Royal Manchester Institution.


The Academy volume 18 1880 no 437 issue of 18 Sep 1880 p209 pntg by Isabel just ((unfort)) called “Cleopatra” is one of a list of “notable pictures” in the ((aut)) exhn at the Ryl Manchester Insttn ((soon to bec the corp art gallery)).  Also in the list: G F Watts’ Psyche; Burne-Jones’ The Music Lesson; and R Spencer Stanhope’s The Waters of Lethe; so she’s in good company.  This exhn had 1168 works in it.  Long rvws over sevl issues in this mag but no fur mention of Isabel.




Isabel showed her painting Princess Scheherezada (sic) at the Walker Art Gallery autumn exhibition in Liverpool.


10th Liverpool Autumn Exhibition of Modern Pictures 1880.  List of exhibitors p82.  P35 catalogue number 494 - The Princess Scheherezada, daughter of the Grand Vizier, thinking of the Story She is going to relate at Night.  Arabian Nights.  Isabel was asking £125 for Scheherezada; I think it was the highest price she ever demanded for one of her works.                                                      


Isabel was elected a member of the Albemarle Club.

Source: Memorabilia p156

Comment by Sally: I haven’t found many references to the Albemarle Club, but a short page in wikipedia says that it was a private members’ club which had women members as well as men.  That makes it virtually unique in London’s contemporary club scene.  It hadn’t been going long when Isabel joined - it was founded in 1874, at 13 Albemarle Street (hence its name).  Oscar Wilde was a member in 1895 and the Albemarle Club was where the sequence of events began which led to Oscar’s conviction for homosexuality.


POSSIBLY AS EARLY AS 1881 though the only evidence I have is from 1913

Isabel began to read the newspaper The Christian Commonwealth regularly.

Source for the newspaper: the British Library catalogue has a full run of issues of it, which was published weekly from 1881 to September 1919.

Comment by Sally Davis: the only mention of The Christian Commonwealth that I’ve found in Isabel’s writings is on p118 of her book Superhumanity (published 1915): she refers to an article in its issue of 1 January 1913, about the decline in religion.  It’s possible that she had always been a regular reader, however - looking at the contents and adverts in the issues of January 1913, I’d say that the paper covered just the kind of religious and spiritual issues that interested her.  Its writers and tone were mostly Christian but there were also adverts for books and talks on Buddhism; some coverage of spiritualism and the Society for Psychical Research; and a great deal of coverage of a visit to England by the current leader of the Bahai faith, Abdul Baha. 

Source: The Christian Commonwealth volume 33 issue 1629 Wednesday 1 January 1913.


8 JANUARY 1881

The first issue was published of the spritualist weekly newspaper, Light.  In the 1880s it was closely associated with the British National Association of Spiritualists.  By 1890 the newspaper was being run by the London Spiritualist Alliance; but its content didn’t change a great deal except to emphasis events in London a little more.

Sources: Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter.  London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 4 New Bridge Street Ludgate Circus.  Volume 1 January-December 1881, volume 10 1890 and volume 11 1891.

Comment June 2016 by Sally Davis on the early years of the magazine Light: I’ve just been contacted by Leslie Price, archivist at the College of Psychic Studies and founder of the online magazine Psypioneer.  Leslie corrected a mistake I’d made when mentioning Light’s early editors. I imagine Isabel knew all of them, at least as acquaintances, so here is a list of the first four of them: John Stephen Farmer; Rev Stainton Moses, until his death in September 1892; W Paice MA, although he also died, shortly after being appointed; and then, Edmund Dawson Rogers.


Leslie Price also drew my attention to a recent article on the founding of Light, based on the reminiscences of Edmund Dawson Rogers, who was such an important figure in spiritualism in the 1880s and 1890s.  As well as setting up Light, he also had the idea which became the Society for Psychical Research; and was the second president of the London Spiritualist Alliance (founded 1884). See that article at Psypioneer volume 4 number 11, November 2008: pp276-80.  The article includes a reproduction of the original share issue for Light’s owner, The Eclectic Publishing Company Limited.  I imagine Isabel became a subscriber to Light, for 10shillings and 10pence per year, rather than buy it week by week.  I’m not so sure that she would have bought shares in the company, though - as her income was limited, she might have thought it was too much of a risk.  


1881 to ?

Isabel became a regular contributor of articles and letters to Light; and read it regularly even after she had left London and no longer went to many spiritualist social gatherings.  In 1890 when Light was in financial trouble (as occult journals often were) Isabel felt strongly enough to contribute £1 to keep it afloat.

Sources: volumes of Light during the 1880s and 1890s; though I haven’t checked beyond 1900 as yet.  For Isabel’s donation: volume 10 January-December 1890 pi.

Memorabilia p146, p188



Isabel showed two works at the Society of Lady Artists: a sketch of Shatucha the Bedouin Girl; and a genre scene, Spanish Tambourine Girl.


The Society of Women Artists Exhibitors 1855-1996 editor Charles Baile de Laperrière, compiler Joanna Soden.  Hilmarton Manor Press 1996.  Volume 1 A-D p328 as De Steiger, Isabel; painter.  Shatucha was catalogue number 632, for sale at £5; Spanish Tambourine Girl catalogue number 651, £8. 



Isabel was abroad but many of her relations were in England. 


Isabel’s older, unmarried sister Constantia was still living at Christleton Old Hall near Chester, with their nieces Theodosia and Josephine and their nephew Charles, the children of Joshua Verney Lovett Lace and his wife Theodosia, both now dead.  This was a very well-to-do household, employing a governess, a housekeeper, a lady’s maid, two housemaids and a kitchenmaid.


Helena and her husband Rev John Turnbull were still living in Temple Ewell on the outskirts of Dover.  All their children were at home (bar the youngest who hadn’t been born yet): Constance, Peveril, Arthur, John and Verney.  As well as a governess, Helena and John were able to afford to employ a cook, a housemaid and a nurse.


Rosamond and Edmund Charles Burton were living at 29 High Street Daventry, with their children Evelyn, Rosamund, Constance, Blanche and Edmund Gerald.  They had visitors staying with them on census day - author Hermon C Merivale and his wife Elizabeth.  This too was a wealthy household: the Burtons employed a governess, and six other servants, all women though who did what was not specified in the census.

Source: 1881 census.

Comment by Sally Davis: Daventry was relatively easy to get to by train from London where Isabel was living at this time.  Ewell was very convenient for those travelling to and from the continent.  However, whether Isabel ever visited Helena and Rosamond and their families, I wouldn’t know.  She never mentions them in Memorabilia.


APRIL 1881

Isabel’s first appearance as a contributor to Light was a letter on the Ancient Mysteries.

Source: Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter.  London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 4 New Bridge Street Ludgate Circus.  Volume 1 January-December 1881 issue of 19 March 1881: p87.



Isabel gave a talk at the BNAS’s fortnightly discussion meeting: Art and the Supernatural.  In it she argued that - contrary to modern assumptions - “earth-bound Spirits” looked just like people and therefore could be painted as easily as people.  Astral light could also be painted - medieval artists had shown it as the ‘nimbus’ or ‘aureole’ of saints.  The idea for the talk had been triggered by an article she had read a few months before, in the Cornhill Magazine.

Source: Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter.  London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 4 New Bridge Street Ludgate Circus.  Volume 1 January-December 1881 p100; p122 issue of 23 April 1881.

The fact that she had given the talk was also mentioned in The Artist and Journal of Home Culture volume 2 1881 p158 issue of 1 May 1881; though with no details of what she had said.


MAY 1881

Isabel exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists for the second and last time, showing A Dancing Girl.


The Royal Society of British Artists 1824-1893 and The New English Art Club 1888-1917.  Compiled by Jane Johnson for the Antique Collectors’ Club Research Project.  First printed 1975; V&A’s copy is the reprint of 1993: p130 as de Steiger: Isabel.  A Dancing Girl was catalogue number 500, price £7.



Isabel exhibited her Valkyries picture for the first time, in the spring exhibition at the Royal Albert Hall.

Comment by Sally Davis: as with the Cleopatras, so with the Valkyries, I’m not sure how many paintings there are.  I think there is only one, exhibited five times between 1881 and 1886, every time with a slightly different title.  Isabel doesn’t mention this painting in Memorabilia; perhaps because it or they took a long time to get sold, if it sold at all.  After this first outing, Isabel let two years go by before showing it again, at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1883; at the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists in 1884; and at the Walker Art Gallery in 1886 - see that entry for a reference to the poem on which it was based.

Source for this first exhibiting of it:

Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences Catalogue of the Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, Architectural Drawings and Art Workmanship 1881.  This year p3 it also showed 200 paintings judged good enough for the Royal Academy summer exhibition but not hung in it due to a lack of space there.  On p28 catalogue number 308 which is an oil painting - (my quotes) “The Three Valkyrie Maidens - Messengers of the Gods, proclaiming from a lone rock in the Northern Ocean to the sea-birds and the fishes the death of Balder (sic) the Beautiful”.  The exhibition also included a large group of paintings lent by the Duchess of Edinburgh: from Spain, and Renaissance Italy and northern Europe.

See wikipedia for the death of Baldr the Beautiful, son of Odin and Frigg; the first in the sequence of events which ended with the destruction of Ragnarok.  The Valkyries attended the funeral.



Isabel went on a trip to the English West Country but the weather was so bad (!) that she moved on to France instead, intending to stay at either Fontainebleau or Barbizon.  She ended up not wanting to stay at either and thinking her whole summer had been wasted.


The Artist and Journal of Home Culture volume 2 1881 issue of 1 October 1881 pp301-02: article signed by Isabel in its Roving Artist column.

Comments by Sally Davis: Isabel knew of both Fontainebleau and Barbizon as artists’ colonies.  However, when she visited them she hated both places.  Nothing pleased her: not the forest; not the chateau, though she did give mild praise to its gardens; and definitely not the villages, which she thought were “ugly” and “dirty”, with ridiculously-overpriced accommodation.  While she was wandering about the village of Barbizon, trying to avoid chickens that were running loose and staring at “dilapidated” gardens, she did go to an exhibition by members of the Barbizon school.  Some indication of how much she disliked what she saw was her amalgamation of the names of two of the group’s best-known members as Théodore Millet (she must mean Jean-François Millet and Théodore Rousseau).  None of the group were excused, though - Isabel called them all “daubers of stupid vulgar subjects”: neither their brush-work style nor their choice of subject-matter were what she thought of as ‘art’; indeed she thought that “Art there was none” at the exhibition.

Source for the Barbizon group’s style; and the two artists whose names Isabel mangled - see the group’s wikipedia page which has a small reproduction of Millet’s 1857 The Gleaners on it, a work whose style and very ordinary subject is typical of the group as a whole.



Isabel exhibited An Eastern Dancing Girl at the Walker Art Gallery autumn exhibition in Liverpool.


11th Liverpool Autumn Exhibition of Modern Pictures 1881. List of exhibitors p121.  And p64 catalogue number 1066 for sale at £6/10 and although she obviously considered it a modest work, possibly even a sketch, it was an oil painting.



Isabel opened her studio in 8 Hornton Street to women artists who wanted to paint nude models.


The Artist and Journal of Home Culture volume 2 January-December 1881 p352 issue of 1 November 1881 on the small ads page; and again on p362 issue of 1 December 1881, just above the News column.  The evenings were specifically designed for women artists and women art students to spend time painting what Isabel carefully referred to as the “undraped model”. Isabel would be charging for the three-hour sessions, though the advert didn’t say how much, so perhaps the price was open to negotiation.


BY LATE 1881

Isabel had sold all four of her Cleopatra paintings.

Artist and Journal of Home Culture volume 2 1881 p143.  I saw this report in a google snippet.  I think the article was a report on an exhibition.  I couldn’t see which one but it was probably that year’s Walker Art Gallery autumn exhibition.  The report said that Isabel had “just sold the last of four Cleopatra pictures”; and that she was working on two other paintings based on classical subjects.

Comment by Sally Davis: if Isabel was working on two paintings with classical subjects, she must still have been under the influence of Alma-Tadema.   I’m not going to speculate on which two paintings Isabel was meaning.


BETWEEN 1881 and 1893

One of Isabel’s letters published in Light led to a correspondence through its pages with another regular contributor to the journal, Anne Judith Penny, who was particularly interested in the works of Jacob Böhme.

Source for the correspondence: Memorabilia p187-188, p189, p191, p193

Information on Jacob Böhme or Boehme from a good and detailed page on wikipedia:

1575-1624, a German Lutheran mystic and writer, author of (amongst other works) Die Morgenroete im Aufgang, also known as Aurora (1600, 1619).  His argument that the Fall was a necessary stage in the evolution of the Universe was considered heretical by many.


Anne Judith Penny’s dates: Magic and Mysticism: an Introduction to Western Esoteric Traditions by Arthur Versluis 2007: p120: born 1825 died 1893.

Source: British Library catalogue for works by Anne Judith Penny:

Her first work, published anonymously, was Morning Clouds: Consisting of Advice to the Sorrowful.  London: Longmans 1858.  Subsequent works published during her lifetime were also published as ‘by the author of Morning Clouds’.  Her works on Böhme/Boehme were not published until long after her death, though Isabel had seen extracts from the works in progress:

1901 published New York and possibly privately printed as a limited edition: An Introduction to the Study of J Boehme’s Writings.

1912 published London: Watkins: Studies in Jacob Böhme.

It’s not clear from Memorabilia whether Isabel and Anne Judith Penny ever met face-to-face.

Comment by Sally Davis: in 1889 and again in 1893, Isabel exhibited paintings of the mythical Aurora, goddess of the dawn.  Perhaps they were inspired by ideas in Jacob Böhme’s work. 


BETWEEN 1881 and 1893

Anne Judith Penny brought Isabel’s letters to Light to the attention of Mary Ann Atwood, and Mrs Atwood invited Isabel to stay with her at her home in Yorkshire.  After this first visit, Isabel began going to stay with Mrs Atwood once a year, usually in the summer.  Isabel was grateful for Mrs Atwood’s notice but fretted that when staying with her she felt she couldn’t spend any time sketching. 

Source: Memorabilia p189-93

Information from Wilmhurst’s introduction to Isabel’s 1918 edition of Mary Ann South’s A Suggestive Inquiry into Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy; and Mary Ann South/Atwood’s wikipedia page:

Mary Ann South (1817-1910) was the daughter of hermeticist Thomas South.  In 1850, she published A Suggestive Inquiry into Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy but it was withdrawn almost immediately by her and her father.  Thomas South (who hadn’t read the book before publication) felt that it gave away information best left secret.  Between them, Mary Ann and Thomas bought up virtually all the copies, and burned them.  However,Mrs Atwood must have kept a few copies of A Suggestive Inquiry back from the fire as, later on, Isabel had one.


In 1859, Mary Ann South married the Rev Alban Thomas Atwood.  She spent the rest of her life living in his parish near Thirsk, Yorkshire.  By the time Isabel met Mrs Atwood, she had achieved almost mythical status in occult circles as a recluse, and as the author of a great esoteric work that almost no one had read.

Comment by Sally: I’m not sure that Isabel actually like Mrs Atwood all that much.  In Memorabilia p119, p193 she described Mrs Atwood as, “more respected than loved”, and as a “miser”.  On p119 she calls her “my old teacher”, not a friend.




After a gap of four years, Isabel exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin again.  She sent one painting: Morning Effect.

Source for the painting exhibited:

Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts: Index of Exhibitors 1826-1979 compiled by Ann M Stewart.  Volume 1: A-G.  Dublin: Manton Publishing 1986.  On p210 as de Steiger, Mme Isabel.  Entry for 1882: Morning Effect as catalogue number 434, price £12/12.


APRIL 1882

Anna Kingsford’s The Perfect Way was published.


Memorabilia Preface pvii; and British Library catalogue: The Perfect Way; or the Finding of Christ was published in London by Field and Tuer; Edward Maitland as co-author.  A revised edition was issued in 1887 and a 3rd edition in 1890.  It’s still the work for which Anna Bonus Kingsford is best known - if she’s known at all. 

Month of publication: Times Tuesday 25 April 1882 p12 in the New Books column as “Just published”: The Perfect Way, a series of lectures.  Published in London by Field and Tuer; in Hamilton Canada by Adams; and in New York by Scribner and Welford.  The author’s name was not mentioned.

Comment by Sally: of course, Isabel had heard the lectures and read a lot of the content of this before it was published.  In any case, what Isabel remembered best about Anna Bonus Kingsford is made clear many times in Memorabilia.  Listening to Kingsford’s talks on western mysticism, and even just being in a group with her, all chatting as friends with this common interest - that was what was precious to Isabel.



Isabel’s painting Mariamne was shown in that year’s Royal Academy exhibition.  By this time she was paying for an artist’s studio at The Studios, Holland Park Road, a short walk from her home.


Royal Academy Exhibitors from 1880 Volume 1 A-D p312 and just noting here that she’s listed as De Steiger.  Mariamne was catalogue number 596; the volumes don’t give information on whether the exhibited items were for sale.  

Memorabilia p107, p110, p130-31.

Comment by Sally Davis: it must have been a great day for Isabel when she found that the RA had accepted one of her paintings at last.  However, she had no illusions about why that had happened: in Memorabilia she put it down to the staff having mis-read her name.  In the catalogue she figured as “Miss F Steeger”. 



Isabel showed her painting Semiramide at the Royal Albert Hall spring exhibition.  I think it was the last time she exhibited anything at the RAH.


Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences Catalogue of the Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, Architectural Drawings 1882.  As in 1881, this exhibition included a number of paintings which couldn’t be squeezed into the Royal Academy for its spring show.  A note on the copy of the catalogue that I saw at the National Art Library said that it was a first edition and some paintings that were shown in the exhibition were not listed in it.  So it’s possible that Isabel showed more works than the one I found: p19 catalogue number 164, Semiramide which was an oil painting, for sale at £20. 

Comment by Sally Davis: the next catalogue in the volume I looked at in the National Art Library was from an exhibition in 1887.  I checked in the Times to see if this meant that catalogues from 1883 to 1886 were missing, but it looked from the small adverts that no art exhibitions were held in those years.  Isabel didn’t show any works in the 1887 exhibition, the last in the NAL’s set.

Isabel showed Semiramide twice more in 1883, with its more familiar title Semiramis, at the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.



Isabel showed a painting of a “single figure” at the recently-opened British Fine Art Gallery at 200 Regent Street.


The Artist and Journal of Home Culture volume 3 1882 p207 issue of 1 July 1882 - a short review of the exhibition, naming a few of the artists but none of their pictures.  Isabel’s single figure was picked out as one of the better paintings in an exhibition dominated by mediocre works.  The reviewer called it “forcible in colour, and French in technique”.  


1 JULY 1882

A letter from Isabel was published in the magazine The Artist and Journal of Home Culture.  She began by stating in bald terms that artistic and musical talent was gifted equally to men and to women - if men were better artists it was because women were less well trained.  Then she went on to discuss the moral issues surrounding the use of naked female models by male artists.


The Artist and Journal of Home Culture volume 3 1882 p231.

Comments by Sally Davis: I think this must be the letter which (according to her own report, in Memorabilia pp107-08) caused works by Isabel to be rejected by the Royal Academy and the Society of Lady Artists; but if it is, it’s not at all the sort of letter I thought it would be.  It’s not really about the disadvantages women faced when training to become artists - that’s summed up in one short paragraph.  Most is about the effect on a young woman’s reputation - specifically her sexual reputation - of being alone and naked in the studio of a male artist.  Isabel argued that when a female artist’s model sat for a woman artist, not only was the model’s moral reputation kept intact, her sense of self-worth was enhanced.  It was therefore a Christian duty of women artists to continue to paint from the nude.  A note from the editor, below the letter, expressed his agreement with Isabel’s arguments; but Isabel later felt that she had reaped the whirlwind from male artists and even some female ones, for having set out her views and had them published.


May 2017: It has taken me several years to find the letter and in fact I’d long ago given up looking for it, as when Isabel was be-wailing the consequences of making her arguments in public, she didn’t say where her comments were published.  The letter was a riposte to a speech by J C Horsley RA at the Newton Abbot School of Art.  Isabel hadn’t been at the talk but had read a report of it in The Artist magazine. 

Information on John Callcott Horsley RA from his wiki says that he was a painter of genre scenes, mostly of subjects from history or the theatre.  Even in his own lifetime he was known as ‘clothes-Horsley’ for his vocal opposition to use of naked life models and paintings of nudes.  Paintings of nudes became popular in the mid-1880s, a trend coming into Britain from the Paris Salon.  A letter against paintings of nudes being shown in public was published in the Times 20 May [1885], supposedly written by a “British Matron” but actually written by J C Horsley.

At, : 1817-1903.  A died-in-the-wool Royal Academician: trained at the RA; elected ARA 1855 full member 1864; treasurer of the RA. 

Comment by Sally Davis: seeing he was so influential at the RA, perhaps it was Horsley himself who made sure that paintings submitted by Isabel were rejected by its hanging committees, as the controversy over nudity in Victorian British art continued to rumble on.



On the back of her triumph over the RA, Isabel showed Mariamne again, at the Walker Art Gallery.  At one or other of the two exhibitions, the painting was bought by Warren de la Rue.


12th Liverpool Autumn Exhibition of Modern Pictures 1882: p132 Steiger, de; at The Studios, Holland Park Road; and p23 Mariamne as catalogue number 261.

Memorabilia pp130-131 where its name is wrongly printed as ‘MariaNne’.

See wikipedia for more on Warren de la Rue (1815-89) a son of Thomas, the founder of the publishing and bank-note printing firm, and from 1871 its managing director.  He’s just as well known now as a spare-time astronomer and chemist: President, Chemical Society; FRAS; FRS; and Légion d’Honneur for his pioneering work on astronomical photography.  He has a lunar crater named after him. 

At there’s a brief mention of him, as some of his astronomical photos are now in the Getty Collections.  He gave up his astronomy when he took over the running of the firm, donating the equipment in his observatory to the University of Oxford.



The next file in the life-by-dates of Isabel de Steiger covers 1883 and 1884, the years in which Isabel exhibited most pictures.


BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.


Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert.  Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986.  Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914.  The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation.  All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden.  Please note, though, that the records of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh were destroyed in 1900/01.  As far as I know, the records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have not survived either.


Family history: freebmd; (census and probate);; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families;; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.


Useful source for business and legal information: London Gazette and its Scottish counterpart Edinburgh Gazette.  Now easy to find (with the right search information) on the web.  Very good on bankruptcies!


Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD.  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.


Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.


Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources.  I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.



18 September 2017



Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: