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image icon 'Poinsettias', 1931

'Poinsettias', 1931
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is an oil painting made in 1931 by Grace Cossington Smith (1892-1984). It is a still life of a branch of poinsettia bracts in a vase, and measures 73.7 cm x 59.7 cm. The orange-red bracts, which curve from the left to the top right of the image, are set against a background of green-grey drapery.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a work of art by Grace Cossington Smith - Cossington Smith is regarded as one of Australia's most significant early modern artists and one of the first artists in Australia to respond to European Post-Impressionism; as a young artist, she was exposed to modern art partly through association with other young experimental artists Roy de Maistre (1894-1968) and Roland Wakelin (1887-1971); one of the new ideas that appealed to these Sydney-based artists was 'synchromism', painting based on using pure colour to create form as opposed to using conventional highlights and shadows; Cossington Smith once said, 'My aim has always been to express form in colour - colour vibrant in light'
  • demonstrates how Cossington Smith utilised colour theory in her paintings - in 'Poinsettias', she has applied the basic principle of balancing warm colours (the orange-red of the bracts) with cool greens and neutrals (the green-grey of the drapery); Cossington Smith worked in small strokes or blocks of colour and once these were laid onto the surface of the painting they were rarely reworked; all of these elements help to strengthen the overall 'colour energy' of the image
  • is an excellent example of how modernist artists of the early 20th century used devices to flatten pictorial space - in 'Poinsettias' this is evident in the use of short brushstrokes which, when examined closely, become a field of patterned movement independent from the 'subject' of the painting
  • illustrates Cossington Smith's particular interest in curvilinear rhythms - during the period in which Cossington Smith produced this painting, she also made a number of paintings of the Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction; the curving action of the composition in 'Poinsettias', which starts with the vase form and curves through to the upper right of the image, is an echo of the dynamic curves that Cossington Smith captured in her depictions of the Bridge
  • is an expression of the artist's appreciation of the beauty in things around her - Cossington Smith once said, 'Art is the expression of whatever things are lovely, at the same time expressing things unseen - the golden thread which runs through time'; Daniel Thomas, Emeritus Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, has argued that the key to Cossington Smith’s art is colour and spirituality, and that 'all her paintings are devotional'
  • is a highly personal statement - the branch of poinsettias in this painting was from the artist's own garden in Turramurra, Sydney, which served as a constant source of inspiration, providing her with numerous subjects
  • demonstrates, in its vibrant style, the influence of European modern art, particularly the art of Vincent van Gogh (1853-90), on Cossington Smith's work - Cossington Smith studied with the painter and teacher Anthony Dattilo Rubbo (1870-1955), who introduced her to the work of van Gogh, Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and others; this had an immediate effect on Cossington Smith and fellow students de Maistre and Wakelin, who all adopted a new way of painting that involved using pure (as opposed to over-mixed) colours, stippled or patterned brush work and a blocky arrangement of forms.