Grace Cossington Smith is today recognised as one of the greatest Australian artists of the early modern period, yet like so many female artists, at the time her work was marginalised and unacknowledged. While an art student, she became interested in post-impressionism and her Sock knitter of 1915 (collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales) is considered one of the earliest Australian modernist paintings. However, it is in her paintings of the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in which her artistic ambitions were fully realised. Cossington Smith famously said that ‘My chief interest I think has always been colour, but not flat crude colour, it must be colour within colour, it has to shine: light must be in it.’ (Grace Cossington Smith, interview with Hazel de Berg, 16 August 1965, National Library of Australia Archives). In this painting bands of colour seem to radiate into the sky from the arc of the bridge. Using a square-ended brush, the paint has been applied in blocks of colour, with areas of the white priming layer allowed to show through. The effect is of softly shimmering colour which rhythmically follows the forms of the bridge and the buildings, the painting pulsating with life and radiance. Cossington Smith celebrates the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a powerful symbol of technology and modernity. By painting the emerging, rather than complete bridge, she also focuses our attention on the energy and ambition required to create it.
Text © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia