Grace Cossington Smith

Australia 1892–1984
Cossington Smith’s aim was ‘to express form in colour’. An important early exponent of modernism in Australia, she developed a highly individual technique that used rhythmic divided brushwork in pure, high-key colour. Studying in Sydney and Europe, her approach reveals the influence of European post-Impressionism. She always painted subjects from her surroundings – transforming them through her own distinctive vision and imbuing them with a spiritual joy – and is probably best known for her scenes of the city.

The curve of the bridge 1928-29

At the time this work was painted, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was the most ambitious engineering project ever undertaken in Australia. When completed in 1932, it was the largest single-arch bridge in the world. Cossington Smith’s painting is one of a series of works showing the massive structure in mid-construction. In a powerful translation of forms through colour and light, the painting radiates optimism and energy, particularly the sky, which is made up of many diagonal staccato brushstrokes of different colours. A marriage of the advancements in art and technology, the work is a celebration of the modern age.

People and places

Starting in 1924, the Sydney Harbour Bridge took 1400 men eight years to build. Around 800 families living in its path were displaced without compensation and 16 workers died during construction. It was opened on 19 March 1932 in proceedings that are now part of Australian folklore, with Francis De Groot on horseback slashing the ribbon with a sword before the official cutting could take place.

Also affectionately known as the ‘Coathanger’, the bridge contains 6 million hand-driven rivets and the steelwork weighs 52,800 tonnes. The cost of building it was eventually paid off in 1988, but a toll system remains to finance bridge maintenance.

Grace Cossington Smith The curve of the bridge 1928-29

Related material

Cossington Smith produced many studies during the bridge’s construction.

An untitled photo by Henri Mallard in the Gallery’s collection was taken from an almost identical vantage point at around the same time.