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...one of Australia’s most significant and paradoxical artists. Cossington Smith lived a relatively secluded life in the Sydney suburb of Turramurra for most of her adult life. She was also one of the most brilliant pioneering modernists of her generation. A wonderful colourist, her best work is underpinned by a sense of structure that came through drawing.
Since 1911, in her earliest sketchbooks Grace Cossington Smith had been interested in doorways, creating suggestions of space beyond. She exhibited small paintings of interiors intermittently in the 1930s and regularly in the 1940s. Her 1947 exhibition included 10 interior views of her home. Their significance lies in the opportunities they offered for experimentation and as a precursor to the great interiors of her later life. The framing device of a doorway creates an immediate illusion of depth, a feature of the work of Pierre Bonnard, whose paintings Cossington Smith would have seen on her last visit overseas, between 1948 and 1951. However, she states that it was Cézanne who was more important to her; his use of unstable compositions and form-defining brushstrokes can be seen as an inspiration for many of her paintings.
In her later years the artist’s use of brighter, more fragmented colour may have reflected her sense of liberation, freed from the pressures of having to prove herself. These late interiors with their brilliant use of colour, especially yellow, represent an emphasis on the emotional aspects of colour. For Cossington Smith seeing and feeling were inseparable. As she said in an interview with Alan Roberts in 1970, ‘I see something and it makes me feel a colour and that is what I try to get’. In fact the interior rooms of Cossington were not particularly bright, the verandahs obstructing most of the direct sunlight that seems to permeate these paintings.