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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Self portrait, 1948

Grace Cossington Smith

oil on cardboard (frame: 56.6 cm x 48.0 cm, support: 39.5 cm x 30.7 cm)

Grace Cossington Smith OBE (1892–1984) was a pioneer of modernist art in Australia. Cossington Smith began her training in art in 1910 with the Italian born teacher, Antonio Dattilo Rubbo, who she later described as ‘the only one in Sydney at that time who knew anything about the modern masters’. Her parents, Ernest and Grace Smith, supported her pursuit of art, enabling her to spend two years overseas during which period she studied in England. She returned to Rubbo’s classes in Sydney in 1914 and the following year her painting The sock knitter was included in the Royal Art Society exhibition. The painting is considered the first post-impressionist work painted in Australia. Around 1920, she adopted the surname Cossington-Smith, ‘Cossington’ being the name of the family home in Turramurra where Grace lived and worked for almost sixty-five years. Despite the hostility of the conservative Sydney art establishment, Cossington Smith became one of a group of artists who stayed resolute in their exploration of modernism. In the late 1920s, she began exhibiting with the Contemporary Group and held the first of many solo exhibitions; and in the same period commenced work on her exhilarating and now celebrated series of paintings of the Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction. Following the deaths of her parents in the 1930s, Cossington Smith moved from her garden studio to one attached to the main house and during the 1940s began to focus on intimate paintings of interiors, in which she tried to express forms with colour and light. Her contribution to Australian art went largely unrecognised until, at age eighty-one, she was honoured with a retrospective exhibition, which opened at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in June 1973 and toured to State galleries. She was awarded an OBE the same year. She eventually left Cossington and moved to a nursing home, where she died at the age of ninety-two in December 1984. Her works have since become among those most recognised in the collections of major galleries and in the canon of modern art in Australia.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2002
© Estate of Grace Cossington Smith

Accession number: 2002.65

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Grace Cossington Smith (age 56 in 1948)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

In good company

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour, 2015

Jean Appleton’s 1965 self portrait makes a fine addition to the National Portrait Gallery’s collection writes Joanna Gilmour.

Self portrait, 1948 Grace Cossington Smith
Self portrait, 1948 Grace Cossington Smith
Self portrait, 1948 Grace Cossington Smith
Self portrait, 1948 Grace Cossington Smith

Modern Australian Women

Magazine article by Gillian Raymond, 2005

Close contemporaries, Thea Proctor, Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith were frequently sources of inspiration and irritation to each other. 

Self portrait with gladioli, 1922 George Lambert
Self portrait with gladioli, 1922 George Lambert
Self portrait with gladioli, 1922 George Lambert
Self portrait with gladioli, 1922 George Lambert

Facing Facts

Magazine article by Andrew Sayers AM, 2003

Former NPG Director, Andrew Sayers describes the 1922 Self-portrait with Gladioli by George Lambert.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.