DETAIL: Grace COSSINGTON SMITH,  'Interior in yellow', 1964, oil on composition board, National Gallery of Australia

Learning Resource

This section enables students to explore 14 key works of art in detail by answering questions relating to each image. The secondary student activity requires students to read the text that accompanies each image.

Grace Cossington Smith (1892–1984) is one of Australia’s most important artists; a brilliant colourist, she was one of this country’s first Post-Impressionsts. She is renowned for her iconic urban images and radiant interiors. Although Cossington Smith was keenly attentive to the modern urban environment, she also brought a deeply personal, intimate response to the subjects of her art. Among the recurring themes are the metropolis and Sydney Harbour Bridge, portraits, still lifes, landscapes, religious and war subjects, theatre and ballet performances, and domestic interiors infused with light.

Students studying Australian Art History will be interested in this artist’s role in introducing concepts of modernism to Australia. Cossington Smith demonstrated a more open, experimental and personally resolved style than many of her male contemporaries and she produced works of art that challenged convention and opened new pathways to modernism. Cossington Smith lived a quiet life, surrounded by female friends and relatives, but in no way did she see herself as anything other than a professional artist whose vision was original and integrity absolute.

  • Primary School Activity
    If you are a Primary school student click on the above link 'Primary School Activity' then explore these works by clicking on each picture and answering the questions as you go.
  • Secondary School Activity
    If you are a Secondary school student click on the above link 'Secondary School Activity' then explore these works by clicking on each picture and answering the questions as you go. You will find additional information relating to the questions in the bibliography and in the gallery sections in the menu above.


1890 Ernest Augustus Smith marries Grace Fisher
1891–97 The births of Mabel (1891), Grace (1892), Margaret (Madge, 1896), and twins Gordon and Charlotte (Diddy, 1897)
1910 At the age of 18 Cossington Smith begins drawing classes at Anthony Dattilo Rubbo’s atelier in Sydney
1912–14 Cossington Smith, her father and sister Mabel travel to England; Cossington Smith attends art classes at Winchester Art School
1914 Cossington Smith returns to Sydney and begins painting in oils at Dattilo Rubbo’s atelier
1915 The sock knitter is painted and exhibited at an exhibition held by the Royal Art Society of New South Wales
1916 Study of a head: self portrait is painted
1920 The Smiths buy a property in Turrumurra and name it Cossington; a studio for Cossington Smith is built in the garden
1922 Portrait of Diddydrawn around this time
1925 Centre of a city (a work in which the tonal influence of Max Meldrum can be seen) painted around this time
1926 A return to bright colour can be noted in Cossington Smith’s works; she makes a break with her teacher, Dattilo Rubbo; becomes interested in theosophy and the symbolic importance of colour; Eastern Road, Turrumurra is painted around this time; Cossington Smith exhibits for the first time with the Contemporary Group
1927 Lily growing in a field by the sea painted around this time
1928 Cossington Smith holds her first solo exhibition at Walter Taylor’s Grosvenor Galleries
1929Four panels for a screen: loquat tree, gum and wattle trees, waterfall, picnic in a gully is painted
1930 Bridge in-curve is painted around this time
1931 Cossington Smith’s mother, Grace, dies; Cossington Smith paints Poinsettias and Hippeastrums growing
1932 Cossington Smith holds her first solo exhibition at the Macquarie Galleries (this gallery would become her main exhibiting venue)
1935–36 The Lacquer Room is painted
1938 Cossington Smith’s father, Ernest, dies and Cossington Smith moves her studio into the main house; Cossington Smith undertakes many painting trips into the countryside with fellow artists Helen Stewart, Enid Cambridge and Treania Smith
1940 Cossington Smith volunteers as an air-raid warden at Turramurra
1941–42 Church Interior is painted
1944 Dawn landing is painted
1947 Cossington Smith elected to full membership of the Society of Artists, Sydney
1948 Cossington Smith sails for England with her sisters Madge and Diddy (Madge remained in England permanently); during the trip, Cossington Smith draws Top deck, the Arawa, Shaw Saville Line
1949 Cossington Smith travels to Italy and then back to England
1951 Cossington Smith returns to Sydney
1954 The first of Cossington Smith’s large interiors, Interior with verandah doors, is painted
1962 Diddy dies; Cossington Smith begins painting Interior in yellow before breaking her hip, which is followed by a long convalescence (subsequently, Interior in yellow was not completed until 1964)
1973 Cossington Smith is awarded an Order of the British Empire for services to art in the New Year’s Honours List; a retrospective exhibition of Cossington Smith’s work, organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, is held and tours major capital cities
1978 Cossington Smith moves from Cossingtonto Dalcross Hospital and then to the Milton Nursing Home, Roseville
1983 Cossington Smith awarded the Order of Australia
1984 Cossington Smith dies, 20 December, at the age of 92

Suggested further reading
  • Grace Cossington Smith, exhibition catalogue, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 2005.
  • Jane Hylton, Modern Australian women: paintings and prints1925–1945, Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia, 2000.
  • Bruce James, Grace Cossington Smith, Roseville, New South Wales: Craftsman House, 1990.
  • Daniel Thomas, Grace Cossington Smith: a life from drawings in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1993.

Sources for the information in this education resource:

  • Grace Cossington Smith, exhibition catalogue, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 2005
  • Bruce James, Grace Cossington Smith, Roseville, New South Wales: Craftsman House, 1990
  • Grace Cossington Smith, interviews with Alan Roberts at Cossington, Sydney, 9 January 1970, 29 January 1970, 9 February 1970 and 28 April 1970; and
  • Grace Cossington Smith, interview with Hazel De Berg, 16 August 1965, National Library of Australia.

The Art & Life Seminar on Saturday 9 April 2005 in the James O Fairfax Theatre at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra featured discussion of the work of Grace Cossington Smith, Margaret Preston and Thea Proctor.

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