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Separated by some thirty-four years and two world wars, Grace Cossington Smith’s second period overseas spanned December 1948 to February 1951. In Self portrait we see Cossington Smith as a mature artist, on the eve of returning to England and Europe with her two younger sisters, Madge and Diddy. During her time abroad Cossington Smith filled some twenty-six sketchbooks with drawings – the main focus of her art while abroad. They present a chronological and geographical survey of her journey, where the camera is replaced with coloured pencils to depict new and familiar places.
The works Cossington Smith produced en route from Australia to England (and coming home again) are some of her most evocative of the period: from disciplined observations of ship and deck equipment to subtle, delicate seascapes. In England Cossington Smith was based at Brook Corner at Ingram’s Green, Sussex, with her friend Nell Campbell. She was driven about by car and travelled on trains through the landscape. In 1949 she also spent time in Italy, looking at Old Master paintings and undertaking work inspired by the local countryside and architecture.
The artist’s fascination with depicting interiors and allowing the inside and outside worlds to meet via window and doors developed notably over this time. Cossington Smith’s position as visitor and spectator seems particularly apparent in the sketchbook drawings. The beauty of these scenes is that they are not especially complex; rather the artist displays an ability to capture her surroundings in a tender and unselfconscious manner.
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