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    Sale 7653

    Modern and Contemporary Australian and South African Art

    16 December 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 20

    Grace Cossington Smith (1892-1984)


    Price Realised  


    Grace Cossington Smith (1892-1984)
    signed 'G. Cossington Smith' (lower left), inscribed '"Wattle" Mabel with love from Joey.' on the reverse
    oil and pencil on board
    16 x 18in. (40.5 x 45.5cm.)

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    'Australian wildflowers are quite on their own, they are the most lovely things we have and their colour ... is a soft and brilliant colour like our atmosphere, which is very wonderful.' (Grace Cossington Smith, interview with Hazel Berg, 1965, quoted in D. Hart (ed.), op. cit., p.65)

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    A gift from the artist to her sister, Mabel, and thence by descent to the present owners.

    Pre-Lot Text


    Cossington Smith, as later proclaimed by Thea Proctor in the November 1938 issue of Art in Australia, was one of the first Australian artists, along with de Maistre and Wakelin, to take an interest in colour and to develop her own individual technique in applying it to make pictures which, for virtually the first time, bring something of the impressionist and post-impressionist revolution into Australian painting. Painting in single dabs of pure colour, she built up her forms into an image whose mood and expression resonated through her careful arrangement of colours. She had been introduced to colour theories as a student under Dattilo Rubbo, rubbing shoulders with the young abstractionists and experimenters in colour de Maistre and Wakelin, and one of her first studies dating from 1916 saw her following van Gogh's painting of his bedroom in Arles, where, as he described in a letter, he had tried to express a mood of rest through the arrangement of colour alone. Her mastering the vocabulary of colour in the following decade provided Cossington Smith with a new language, one she had perfected by the mid-1920s, and one wholly new in Australian art at the time, which would place her work, in retrospect, in the vanguard of modernist art in Sydney in the 1930s. Her still lifes perhaps gave her the greatest freedom to indulge in these essays in colour, as cut flowers jostling in vases and jars allowed her to paint virtual abstractions ('I saw things as a pattern expressed in colour' she remarked in 1970), essays in contrasting complementaries, with the soft harmonies of cool pinks and mauves against primrose in a bouquet of roses, strident reds and greens in a pot of native banksias, brassy yellows and blues clashing in a study of wattle.

    The following nine pictures all come from the descendants of her older sister Mabel. Her younger sister Margaret ('Madge') was the subject of an early portrait by Cossington Smith ('The Sock Knitter', 1915, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney) which has become one of the iconic works of early modernism in Australia. Painted when Cossington Smith was twenty-three and still a student of Dattilo Rubbo, its post- impressionist approach using bright colours and simple bold forms precedes the method of expression that the artist would develop over the following decade, dividing colour on her palette and applying it in single dabs of the brush to create her own distinctive mosaic-like shimmering world. This world, so distinctly her own, was perhaps the realisation of the potential her neighbour and champion, Ethel Anderson, had discerned in 1926: '"And who knows?" Mother encouraged Grace, "With your unique brushstroke, with your grasp of colour, you may be about to give an expression to a quality in life, more moving than beauty alone, more intimate than infinity. You may find a fourth dimensional emotion as yet unfound, un-named." No one had spoken to Grace like that before. The Smith family sat goggle-eyed; and Grace was overcome. To have her work taken so seriously, to have it praised, was like a burgeoning flower in the arid desert of her life.' (B. Foote, Ethel and the governors' general, Paddington, 1992, pp.128-30, quoted in D. Hart (ed.), Grace Cossington Smith (NGA exhibition catalogue), Canberra, 2005, p.28)

    The following lots, ranging from the 1920s to 1950, allow us to follow her method of seeing and expressing the world as it changed over the years, from the tightly constructed and assertive ('firm separate notes of clear unworried paint', GCS) Roses in a bowl (lot 21), amongst a beautiful suite of five small flower pictures from the 1920s and '30s, to the looser and more hesitant Cézanne-inspired landscape studies of the 1940s and '50s.

    (Lots 20-28)