Jeffrey Smart

Stop 17 of 32

A painting of a red metal spiral staircase rising into a sunny lightly clouded sky. The bottom of the stairs is invisible and a bald man in a dark suit walks down the stairs, partially obscured by the central pole.

Jeffrey Smart
Jacob descending

Creation date: 1979

Jacob descending
1979 Tuscany, Italy
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
94 x 55.6 cm
TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville
Gift of Eva Besen AO and Marc Besen AO
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2008
© The Estate of Jeffrey Smart

Music composed by YL Hooi

When I saw the painting I imagined Jacob's watch hitting the steel handrail as he walks up and down endlessly, as though stuck in purgatory in a bubble-gum theme park.

Jacob descending is one of Smart’s most dreamlike images. It presents the double helix of a red spiral staircase containing a suited male figure. Jacob’s ladder also appears in the Christian Book of Genesis, as a symbol of the connection between Heaven and Earth. It is also likely that Smart was familiar with the English artist and poet William Blake’s image of Jacob’s dream (c 1805) in the British Museum, which includes a spiral staircase.