Grace’s Home Through the Looking Glass

grace cossington-smith door into the gardenGrace Cossington Smith Door Into the Garden, 1959. Oil on composition board. – Bendigo Art Gallery.

Australian artist and pioneer of modernist painting in Australia, Grace Cossington Smith was born Grace Smith, on 20 April 1892 in Neutral Bay, Sydney. She attended Abbotsleigh School for Girls in Wahroonga from 1905–1909 and from 1910-1914 studied art in both Australia and the United Kingdom. She adopted the middle name “Cossington” in 1920 which was an early family name. Her work was greatly respected by fellow-artists Roland Wakelin and Roy de Maistre. She exhibited with the Royal Art Society of New South Wales from 1915, the Society of Artists from 1919 and Thea Proctor’s Contemporary Group at Adrian Feint’s Grosvenor Gallery from 1926–28, and from 1932 to 1971, at the Macquarie Galleries.

Her painting style was characterized by her individual, square brush strokes with bright unblended colours.  She received acclaim late in her career and in 1973; a major retrospective exhibition of her work toured Australia.

  • As shown in these images, many of her scenes give a glimpse of the ordinary suburban home of her time: still lives, doorways and window sills.
  • Many of her room interior creations show the same room from different angles, or even multiple views from a slightly different or same angle.
  • In some paintings a door or window is the dominant focus for the painting, while in others, the viewer is shown the entire room.

Interior settings became a late theme for Grace Cossington Smith and the painting above shows the door from the artist’s studio into the back garden of her home in Turramurra. She lived in the same house all her life and from the intimate interior with all her familiar furniture, we are led through open doors into the garden beyond. Her pure use of pigment and stippled brushwork create a flood of golden light. Cossington Smith’s art is important not only for the personal qualities she brought to her work; but for demonstrating a significant response to European Post-Impressionism.  Examples of her work are held by every major gallery in Australia.

grace cossington-smithHer large oil, Interior with verandah doors of 1954, (seen right) shows an accurate depiction of her house with a large window and a door opening to the outside on the other side of the bed. She used great sunlight and wonderful patterns of vibrant colour with cool colours added to shadows, giving them a sense of energy. Her use of colour has been compared to the work of Pierre Bonnard, though she said she found Cézanne a more important influence on her work.

In 1973 Smith was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her services to Australian art. She was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1983. The Governor of New South Wales visited Grace Cossington Smith in her nursing home to award her the honour.

She died on 10 December 1984 in Roseville, New South Wales.

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