DETAIL: Grace COSSINGTON SMITH,  'Interior in yellow', 1964, oil on composition board, National Gallery of Australia

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The Lacquer Room

The Lacquer Room depicts an Art Deco café in inner-city Sydney. Although the location of the café has been much debated, it bears a striking resemblance to Cecil Bostock’s photograph of the Soda Fountain in David Jones. Most important is the artist’s interpretation of modern city life, inspired by the colours and rhythms of an up-to-date café interior. In an interview years later, Cossington Smith described her first impressions:

The Soda Fountain in David Jones, Sydney c.1928 photograph by Cecil Bostock courtesy of David Jones, Australia  
'The Soda Fountain in David Jones' Sydney c.1928 photograph by Cecil Bostock courtesy of David Jones, Australia   

I didn’t know it was there, but I just went down to get a cup of tea I think. And found this lovely restaurant. It was a great surprise to me. I was struck by its colour and general design … Scarlet, green and white held me spellbound. I began drawing, writing the colour in words as I worked. (‘The Lacquer Room’, Australian Eye series, Film Australia and Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1979)

The artist’s lively drawing in a sketchbook provided the prompts for the painting. The visitors to the café appear as if in a snapshot, absorbed in their own worlds. As a depiction of a distinctly secular interior in a department store, The Lacquer Room was the closest Cossington Smith would come to the interest in modern décor espoused by Roy De Maistre and Thea Proctor. It was also a return to a city subject following her depictions of the Sydney Harbour Bridge a few years earlier – a reassertion of her feeling for luminosity and rhythmic, architectonic structure on a smaller, human scale.

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