In the pursuit of modernism


Australian artist’s Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith, like Georgia O’Keeffe in America, have long been recognised for their central role in the development of modern art in Australia. All three women were ambitious and steadfast in their pursuit of a modernism distinct from European traditions. Their works represent distinct modernist visions of the identity and culture of their respective nations, with landscape and a sense of place clearly a tremendous source of inspiration.

Georgia O’Keeffe, 1887-1986 / Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory 1938 / Gift of The Burnett Foundation / Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Coming of age in the 1920s and ‘30s, decades of great social and cultural transition, they connect with each other through their choice of subject, experimentation with light, colour and form and a commitment to presenting alternative ways of seeing the world.

Also united by a love of nature, O’Keeffe, Preston and Cossington Smith developed subjects from their immediate surroundings to create distinct interpretations of place. O’Keeffe synthesised the forms and lines of the New Mexico high desert to share her experience of its vast and ancient landscape, while Preston articulated the character of her local environment in her pursuit of a uniquely Australian aesthetic. Cossington Smith painted glowing and intimate landscapes based on views from her semi-rural home in Sydney’s outer suburbs.

The genre of still life was a further touchstone – flower painting in particular. Each artist transformed this traditional art form into a pictorial vehicle more relevant to the modern age.

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‘Making Modernism’ / Queensland Art Gallery / 11 March to 11 June 2017 / The exhibition is presented by the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Victoria, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, and the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, in partnership with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, and supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Feature image detail: Grace Cossington Smith Trees c.1927