Painter, born in Neutral Bay, Sydney. A student of Dattilo Rubbo, Cossington Smith was quick to absorb modernist ideas and in 1915 exhibited 'The Sock Knitter', described by Daniel Thomas as 'perhaps the first fully Post-Impressionist work painted in Australia'.
painter, was born at Neutral Bay, Sydney, second of the five children of Ernest Augustus Smith, a solicitor, and Grace, née Fisher, daughter of the rector and squire of Cossington, Leicestershire, who had studied music in Germany. Grace junior was a boarder at Miss Connolly’s school at Point Piper, Sydney then attended Abbotsleigh, Wahroonga, where she was taught art by Albert Collins and Alfred Coffey . She was also encouraged by the headmistress, Marian Clarke, herself a talented watercolourist. In 1910 she began drawing lessons with Dattilo Rubbo ; her early sketchbooks consist of 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 also at Stettin, Germany.
In 1914 Cossington Smith rejoined her family in their newly acquired home in Turramurra, built by a previous owner to accommodate Quaker religious meetings and renamed Cossington by its new owners. It was Grace’s home for 65 years. She also 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 modernist ideas quickly and in 1915 exhibited The Sock Knitter – 'perhaps the first fully Post-Impressionist work painted in Australia’, Daniel Thomas states. Although several of her paintings depict social conditions – Troops Marching , Strike , Crowd at the Races and Rushing – she described her work at this time as being 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 solo exhibition and had her work reproduced in Art in Australia . She was interested in religious subjects in her paintings and was loosely involved with Ethel Anderson 's Turramurra Wall Painters. 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 added inside the house beside her bedroom, an environment that resulted in the dominance of interior subjects in her later paintings. Juxtaposed pure colours, applied with a distinctive broad brushstroke, depict 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’.
Cossington Smith never married; she was 'wholly interested in painting’ and one of a close family group. She had a private income, but taught art for several years at two small private schools and to private pupils. She held 18 solo exhibitions at the Macquarie Galleries between 1932 and 1977 and showed her work in many group exhibitions in Sydney and overseas. The many awards she received included the OBE and AO. She is represented in all state and major regional galleries. Daniel Thomas held a retrospective exhibition of her work at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1973. She died on 24 December 1984.
Late in the war and/or in the immediate post-war period (c.1919-20) Cossington Smith drew a set of anti-German propagandist cartoons, The Great Illusion (originals NGA), showing how Germany had underestimated Britain’s military capabilities and ending in a plea for conscription to foil German expectations once more. They feature the British Lion nonchalantly licking his paw while German officers mock him, '“HE won’t do anything – he’s decadent”’, ’1913/ (The Wowzers) [disaffected Englishmen in bowler hats] “Boo-hoo – the poor animal – he’s going to the dogs’', ’1914/ '“Bah! you contemptible little thing – what can you do against my beauty”!’; ’1916…(Chorus) Conscription! – NEVER!! he’s too conservative!’; ’1917… – “If only we humbug him enough, he will fall in” -’ and '(Knowing one) “He can’t hold them any longer – they’re waiting for the chance to break loose“–’. In the last the lion’s ranks have swelled to include an army of cubs (the Commonwealth countries) who, despite contentedly licking their paws, are believed by the Germans to be about to desert Britain. These may be the drawings War Phrases shown in the Royal Art Society annual exhibition in October 1919, alluded to by Bruce James in his monograph on the artist. An apparent addition to the series, The revival of German music 1920 (copy in Joan Kerr Archives, NLA), comments on the dangers of underestimating German post-war economic rebuilding. A choir of blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy singers wearing leiderhosen – labelled 'mercantile navy’ (sporting a naval cap labelled 'DEUTC[H?]’ [ sic ]), 'trade’, 'commerce’ and 'industry’ – are being conducted by an elderly gentleman '(Herr Professor)’, who is saying: “Quite a nice little class again – now, altogether my children”.
Cossington Smith also drew caricatures of some leading, international, wartime figures c.1919. They include the American President, Woodrow Wilson, and a double-page spread featuring, on the left, Field Marshall General Sir John French, commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Forces at the beginning of the war, and, on the right, Lord John Fisher, First Lord of the Admiralty. Cossington Smith’s Wilson as TheIdealist looks ineffectual as, with his hands clasped in front of him and his feet together, he says: 'I am an Idealist/ -it’s my Temperament/ -I can’t help it./ During the/ Great War I/ helped by writing/ Notes./ When Peace came/ I helped by pointing/ out “14 Points”, & by/ making acute/ situations more acute./ I invented the League/ of Nations. Another of/ my high ideals is “to/ make the world safe/ in Democracy” -/ I am “too proud/ to fight”. When others/ have done the fighting/ I step in & say/ what should be done./ This is my Chief Role/ -I love it -it makes/ me feel so/ acutely idealistic’. French, who resigned as commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force after a series of military defeats in France and Belgium, is pictured at his writing desk, proclaiming '“I am really/ a Great Soldier/ – but lately I’ve/ taken to writing/ books about/ things that needn’t/ be written about”’. The reference is to his book 1914 (1919) in which he revealed details of his protracted, wartime quarrel with General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, an account described in The Dictionary of National Biography as ill-judged and deplorable. Cossington Smith seems to have been more enamoured of Lord Fisher (there is some speculation he may have been a relative of her mother’s.), who holds a book labelled 'MEMOIRS’ and states: ''I have also taken to/ writing books, but my real/ business is THENAVY./ -I am the Creator/ of the Navy as it is To-day.’'
Her cartoon, The Davis Cup goes home , is stylistically similar to her war drawings and was presumably drawn in 1920, the year the Cup was won by the United States after being retained by Australia from 1914 to 1919 (no competition was held in 1915-18 because of the war). Australia is represented by a kangaroo holding a tennis racquet looking back at his 'Uncle Sam’ competitor who strides off, cigar in mouth, holding the Cup and saying: '(The Yank) – “I guess this little trinket belongs to me again”-’.
Two pencil drawings that parallel May Gibbs’s gumnut babies, Xmas Belle and ''What a Xmas Belle you are’' , were presumably drawn c.1930; the undated NGA sketchbook 51 in which they appear contains a flier for the 1930 Empire Fête, held at St James’s Church, Turramurra.
Daniel Thomas held a retrospective exhibition of her work at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1973 and a drawing exhibition at the NGA in 1993 (see Grace Cossington Smith: A Life from drawings in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia , Canberra, 1993).
Note: Heritage entry Kerr, Joan
Note: On Smith's cartooning