Grace Cossington Smith

Grace Cossington Smith (1892-1984), artist, was born at Neutral Bay, Sydney, the second of five children of Grace (born Fisher) and Ernest Augustus Smith, solicitor. Her mother was a daughter of the rector and squire of Cossington, Leicestershire, and had studied music in Germany. Grace was a boarder at Miss Connolly's school, Point Piper, and later attended Abbotsleigh, Wahroonga, where she was taught art by Albert Collins and Alfred Coffey and was encouraged by headmistress Marian Clarke, a talented water colourist.

In 1910 Cossington Smith started drawing lessons with Anthony Dattilo Rubbo. Her early sketch books comprise realistic pencil drawings of familiar household articles. On a two-year trip to England with her sister in 1912, she attended drawing classes at Winchester School of Art and in Stettin, Germany. In 1914 she rejoined her family in a newly acquired home in Turramurra, built by a previous owner to accommodate Quaker religious meetings and renamed 'Cossington' by its new owner. It was her home for 65 years and the subject of the interior paintings which dominate her later work.

She returned to Dattilo Rubbo's classes. With the help of overseas magazines and books, and reproductions brought from England by a former pupil, Norah Simpson, Rubbo encouraged enthusiasm for modern art. Cossington Smith absorbed the modernist ideas quickly and in 1915 exhibited 'The Sock Knitter' ('the first fully post-impressionist work to be exhibited in Australia'). Although her paintings depicted social conditions - 'Troops Marching', 'Strike', 'Crowd at the Races' and 'Rushing' - she described her work at this time as primarily concerned with technical issues such as how to bring forms up to the picture plane and the effects of colour.

In 1928 she held her first one-artist exhibition and had work reproduced in Art in Australia. She was involved with the Turramurra Wall Painters and helped in the painting of murals at the Turramurra Grammar School (now demolished), and the Children's Chapel, St James Church, Sydney.

The construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge inspired a major series of paintings and pastel drawings depicting the bridge as a symbol of modernism. She also painted landscapes and streetscapes, on excursions with artist friends or family, and native flowers. In 1938, following the death of her father, the artist moved from her garden studio to one inside her home. The interior environment resulted in the dominance in her later work of interior paintings. Juxtaposed pure colours, applied with a distinctive broad brush stroke, depicted intimate views of her home - light-filled and spiritual. She described her work as 'expressing form in colour, colour vibrant with light - but containing this other, silent quality which is unconscious, and belongs to all things created'. She never married; she was 'wholly interested in painting' and one of a close family group. She had a private income but she taught art for several years at two small private schools and to private pupils.

She held eighteen one-artist exhibitions at the Macquarie Galleries between 1932 and 1977. She exhibited in many group exhibitions in Sydney and overseas and was awarded many prizes, the OBE and AO. She is represented in all State and major regional galleries. The Art Gallery of New South Wales organised a retrospective exhibition in 1973. She died on 24 December 1984.

Heather Johnson

D Thomas Grace Cossington Smith 1973.