Woman Cossington Smith, Grace (1892 - 1984)


Neutral Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Written by Dorothy Erickson, Independent Scholar

Grace Cossington Smith was born in Neutral Bay, Sydney in 1892 to Grace Fisher, daughter of the rector and squire at Cossington in England and her husband Ernest Smith, London-born crown solicitor whose brother was chaplain to Queen Victoria at Osborne on the Isle of Wight and whose sister was an Anglican nun. The elder Grace had studied music in Germany. Her daughter Grace was sent to board at Miss Connolly's and then to Abbotsleigh School where she was taught art by Albert Collins and Alfred Coffey. In 1910 she started to take drawing lessons with Anthony Dattilo-Rubbo and undertook further two years' study in England at the Winchester School of Art and in Germany.

When she returned in 1914 Grace joined her family in a new home in Turramurra that they later purchased and named 'Cossington'. She lived there for the next sixty-five years. She returned to classes with Signor Rubbo and began to paint in a Post Impressionist manner, and at her mother's suggestion, adopted the surname Cossington Smith as her professional name. She exhibited with the Royal Society of Art in New South Wales from 1915, the Society of Artists from 1919 and the Contemporary Group from 1927. Fellow modernist painters respected her art that often depicted events in city life. She held her first solo exhibition in the Grosvenor Galleries in 1928 and then held one at the Macquarie Galleries every three or four years until 1977. Her work was reproduced in Art in Australia and included in a large survey exhibition in 1938 and 1941 in the exhibition Art of Australia 1788-1941 that toured North America.

After her parents died in the 1930s Cossington Smith added a large well-lit studio to the house. Her subjects often expressed the excitement of big city living, including the building of the Harbour Bridge and from the 1940s she began to be collected by art museums. After a visit to Europe in 1949-50 and the death of her sister she lived alone with her work centred on home and memories. She became widely known only in the 1960s after Bernard Smith's Australian Painting was published. In 1967 she stated 'I have always wanted, and my aim had always been to express form in colour within colour, vibrant with light' (ADB). In 1973 she was appointed OBE and a retrospective exhibition was mounted at the Art Gallery of New South Wales that then toured Australia. It is known that she considered that wide recognition at the age of 81 years was a little late and she would have welcomed recognition earlier. She remained throughout her life a devout Anglican imbued with ideals of public service and independence of mind. Cossington Smith who had never married died in a nursing home in 1984. She was a pioneer of modernist painting in Australia and her work is greatly sought after.

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Grace Cossington Smith interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection, 16 August 1965, ORAL TRC 1/122; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources


  • Kerr, Joan, Heritage : the national women's art book, 500 works by 500 Australian women artists from colonial times to 1955, Craftsman House, Sydney, New South Wales, 1995. Details
  • Thomas, Daniel, Grace Cossington Smith, Cossington Smith, Grace, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, 1973. Details

Online Resources

Digital Resources

Grace Cossington Smith interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection
16 August 1965
National Library of Australia
ORAL TRC 1/122 (analogue) and Bib ID 207757(Digital)
National Library of Australia Oral History Collection