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Self portrait
, 1948

by 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 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, Canberra
Purchased 2002
Accession number: 2002.65