Grace Cossington SMITH
Drapery in the studio 1940
oil on pulpboard
Rockhampton Art Gallery Trust Art Acquisition Fund 1995
Grace Cossington Smith, one of Australia’s great modern artists, is singled out as a post-impressionist due in large part to her trademark brushwork—luminous colour applied to the canvas with short vertical strokes. She took inspiration from artists like Vincent van Gogh, Pierre Bonnard and Paul Cezanne, noting their bold use of colour, interest in patterns, flattened picture plane, and desire to express humanity in scenes of the everyday. These ideas were translated into Smith’s own daily experiences. She painted scenes around Sydney, particularly the construction of the Harbour Bridge, but also landscapes and her home life.
Cossington was Grace Smith’s family home in Sydney’s Turramurra, and she shared its name. Her father built her first studio in the family garden. After his death in 1938, Smith took over his room and a nearby space as her studio. It is this house that features so often in Smith’s work, notably in her glowing interiors of the 1950s and 1960s. These complex compositions of furniture and doorways, mirrors and windows look out to or reflect the garden. Drapery in the studio, painted in 1940, is a precursor to these celebrated works.
Drapery in the studio, one of her first interiors, depicts Smith’s new working space. Cloths of white and yellow are laid over a chair and a table, creating both hard edges and voluminous shapes and folds. Perched precariously on the edge of the table is a jug filled with pink, blue and red flowers. Behind this ensemble is an open door, and a window offers a view to the garden. Smith experiments with how light plays on different surfaces to create subtle shifts in tone. The studio, full of warmth and light, confirms her love of the colour yellow, which she articulated later in life as ‘the colour of the sun … the colour that advances’.1 The floor and carpet have been flattened and cropped, so that viewers feel themselves to be standing in the room. There is a sense of privilege at being invited into this private world.
Though it was an expectation of her generation, Smith never married, but she was not a reluctant ‘spinster’.2 Rather, being unmarried and supported by a nurturing family was liberating for a woman who single-heartedly pursued a modern vision in her painting.
1. Virginia Duigan, ‘A portrait of the artist at 90’, National Times, 7–13 March 1982.
2. Drusilla Modjeska, Stravinsky’s Lunch, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1999, pp. 203–340.