Cossington | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage

Heritage

Cossington

Item details

Name of item: Cossington
Other name/s: Sylvan Fells, Sylvan Falls
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Residential buildings (private)
Category: House
Location: Lat: -33.7315023526 Long: 151.1342498230
Primary address: 43 Ku-Ring-Gai Avenue, Turramurra, NSW 2074
Parish: Gordon
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Ku-Ring-Gai
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
 A  339780
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
43 Ku-Ring-Gai AvenueTurramurraKu-Ring-GaiGordonCumberlandPrimary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Mrs Ann MillsPrivate 

Statement of significance:

As the adult home of Grace Cossington Smith and the subject of many of her finest paintings, Cossington is of State heritage significance for its association with this outstanding twentieth century Australian artist. Cossington is also of State significance for its association with women's history in NSW in so far as Cossington Smith's art works represent an especially feminine perspective on Australian culture - as viewed from the interior of an upper middle-class suburban house. Cossington is also of local heritage significance for its unusual timber-lined meeting room originally used for Quaker meetings, for its associations with Cossington Smith's eminent lawyer father Ernest Smith, for its architectural qualities as a Federation bungalow designed by Nixon & Allen, and for its garden contributing to the streetscape.

"I am not sure there is another artist in the entire history of Australian art for whom there can be the same two-fold association of firstly, a house in which the artist lived for entirety of a career - more than six decades - and secondly, where the interior structure itself - ie the rooms inside - formed the basis of subject matter pursued with magnificent and profoundly spiritual dedication over that time." (Barry Pearce, 2006)
Date significance updated: 27 Sep 06
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.

Description

Designer/Maker: Nixon and Allen
Construction years: 1899-1899
Physical description: A Federation period home with fine timber detailing and an unusual timber lined meeting room. (National Trust listing card, 1985)
A large single storey Federation style house constructed of red open kiln bricks with blue brick dressings along the line of the window ledges and above the windows. Mitre slate roof with lead ridging. There are four decorative chimneys of red and blue bricks. Strong veranda details include turned posts, delicately incised timber brackets and lattice valance. (National Trust listing card, 1985)

The interior features an impressive kauri board lined central meeting room with a fine cedar screen with decorative leadlight panels and a rough hewn stone fire surround. (National Trust listing card, 1985)

The house stands in a mature garden of dense-leafed evergreens, pines, azaleas and camellias, with a wide gravel brick-edged drive in good condition. The front fence repeats the style and structure of many fences in Ku-Ring-Gai Avenue, with overlapping palings and squared timber coping. There are heavy wrought iron gates in rectangular and diamond pattern. (National Trust listing card, 1985)

The door from the new kitchen (previous spare bedroom) to the back veranda is original and unusual in that the joinery makes the shape of a cross (this may be a remnant of significance to the original Quaker occupants). The door into Cossington Smith's former studio (in the south eastern corner of the house) is significant as it had been the door to her studio in the garden and was moved to its new position when she moved the studio into the house.

Moveable heritage:
The major dark wood furniture in the dining room is largely the same as when Cossington Smith lived there - a large bookcase with many art books that had been owned by Cossington Smith, the dining table and chairs and the large sideboard, as well as the mantle clock over the original fireplace. This room also contains its original french doors leading from the living room to the back veranda, making it perhaps the most intact room in the house. In the living room, the original fireplace is graced with its original mantle clock and two period drawings of GCS's forebears titled "Great grandfather Smith" and "Great grandmother".
Modifications and dates: 1899 - House built, used for Quaker meetings.

1913 - House first rented by Ernest and Grace Smith, who renamed it "Cossington" when Ernest bought it in 1920. Between 1913 and his death in 1938 Ernest added a verandah and entrance vestible to the front facade of the house, moving the front door from the south side of the house to the west side; added a tennis court to the back yard; and built a studio for Cossington Smith to work in, in the north eastern corner of the back garden.

1938 to 1979 - Cossington Smith moves her studio into the house, extending the south side of the house in 1939 to incorporate it as a new room, and at the same time extending the bedroom on the other side of the hall ("Madge's bedroom"). These minor modifications are designed by the architect Bertram Chisholm (Thomas, 2006). Cossington Smith and her sisters sell the second block of land behind the house which was depicted in "Bonfire in the Bush" 1937. A large liquid amber tree is now situated in about the same place as where the three sisters stood in the painting.

1979 to 2006 - Cossington Smith moves to a nursing home and her niece Ann Mills moves into the house with her family. The Mills demolish a garage on the north front facade, add a car port on the south front facade and put in a circular drive. They also demolish Cossington Smith's derelict studio in the back garden, not having been used for 40 years. The kitchen is moved from the north western corner of the house to the north eastern corner of the house, replacing what had been a spare bedroom known as the Blue Room (or sewing room) plus laundry, linen cupboard and hall. On the advice of insurers the Mills replace the French doors in the bedrooms with windows. A new doorway is cut into the main bedroom, which had been Cossington Smith's room, to give access to the bathroom. To make room for a double bed in this room, the fireplace is also removed and a built-in wardrobe added. The room behind the car port, which had been Cossington Smith's studio, is extended and glass sliding door added. The tennis court is enlarged and its grass surfacing replaced with artificial surface. The original back veranda is raised 18 inches (40 cm) to meet Council regulations. In 1991 a large gumtree in the back garden falls over in a huge storm, without major damage to property. In recent years, the wooden lining of the Quakers' Room (the living room and dining room) has been extensively cleaned (after appearing nearly black after a century collecting soot from the fireplaces); also the doors and leadlighting have been carefully restored. The slate roof has been restored. The back veranda has been extended.
Current use: Residence
Former use: Residence

History

Historical notes: Turramurra
Turramurra is 170 metres above sea level, 30 metres above Pymble and 17 kilometres from Sydney. It has an average of 1,400 mm of rain per annum, one of the highest for the Sydney metro area. It has a population of close to 11,000 and an area of 6.13 sq km or approx 2 sq miles. It is bordered on one end by the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and on the other by Lane Cove National Park. Property value is $926,000 (2007).
Originally a timbergetting area settlement begun in 1822 until after 1850 when the orchardists came to occupy extensive landholdings producing a variety of citrus and other fruits including persimmons, custard apples and Chinese pears.
The Turramurra Railway station was opened on 1 January 1890. The suburb was then known as Eastern Road and it was nearly a year later on 14 December 1890 that Turramurra was named after the Aboriginal word meaning 'high hill'.

The construction of the railway brought immediate progress. In 1881 the population was only 142, by 1891 it was 788 and in 1901 1,306.

There was no electricity until 1927, water was piped from Wahroonga Reservoir and the outside loos were regularly emptied by the nightwatchman. The gaslights were lit each evening by the gaslighter. Those with very large properties kept cows for instant milk supply. Many dairies were established and the milkman delivered twice a day. By 1920 fruit fly put an end to all commercial growing of fruit on the North Shore and the land were converted into Chinese gardens.

Ku-Ring-ai Avenue
The most expensive subdivision, of lots of 10 acres or more available, is the portion around Ku-ring-gai Avenue and Boomerang Street and a number of houses listed in the Sands Directory of 1903 are found here.

Shops - 1912
Chinese gardens - disappeared after WWII
Ku-ring-gai Avenue was owned by a few prominent people. Thomas Cosh, the architect designed and built a number of houses here, possibly as a speculative builder and developer, and lived in a few of them before selling on, including:

2 - Ellerslie 1899 - John Shedden Adam
8 - Mildura 1899 - Slatyer and Cosh
12 - Ballydown 1897 - Charles Slatyer - Martin McIlrath (second owner of Ingleholme)
17 - Glensloy, Wychwood 1901- Robertson and Marks - G. E. McFarlane (tobacco merchant) Originally on a 9-acre site
25 Yacaba 1897 - Walter Vindin (solicitor)
31 - Creighton, Cainga, Tanvally 1899 -Thomas Cosh
34 - Newstead, Yprina 1903 (Lichtner, chemist and importer)
37 Ilanscourt 1897 - Nixon and Allen - W. J. Baker (Cutler and Instrument maker)
43 Sylvan Fels, Cossington 1899 - Nixon and Allen - Grace Cossington Smith gave drawing and painting lessons.
44 - Waiwera 1900 - additions by Spain and Cosh (Sir Joseph Palmer Abbott)
Woodstock 1905 - Spain and Cosh - W. C. Penfold
51 Highfield 1917
54 - Erahor, Cairns 1900 - Spain and Cosh (Thomas Cosh) - Dr Cosh and later J. P Dowling
55 - Hampton 1900 - Alex Joske
56 - Strathendrick 1899 - Spain and Cosh - Mr Ward rented from Cosh
60 - The Terricks 1908 - Spain and Cosh, (Thomas Cosh)
62 - Egelabra 1908 - Spain and Cosh (Thomas Cosh)
77 - Talagon 1897 Arthur Stanton Cook (Edwards, 2009).

Grace Cossington Smith:
1892 Grace Smith is born at Neutral Bay to English migrant Ernest Augustus Smith and Grace (nee Fisher), the second of five children. The extended name "Grace Cossington Smith" appears on her baptism entry at St Augustine in Neutral Bay. Her mother encouraged her to adopt it as part of her identity as an artist and she began actively using it in her twenties as her preferred way of being recognised, personally and professionally (Hart, 2005, 1).
1895 The Allowah Estate in Turramurra is subdivided ("Cossington" will be built on Lot 12).
1899 The house is designed by Nixon and Allen for W.J. Baker. Named "Sylvan Fells", it has an unusual timber lined meeting room which is used for Quaker meetings. According to Quaker researcher Jenny Madeline, William John Baker was a trustee for the Quaker Burial Ground established at Rookwood Necropolis in 1902 following the resumption of the Devonshire Street Cemetery for Central Railway Station. He had had another house built to the design of Nixon and Allen at 37 Kuringai Ave Turramurra in 1897 (Reith and Madeline, 2006). Cossington Smith later would say that the house at Turramurra had been designed for "'Mr Baker the Quaker' as a dwelling that could also function as a Quaker lodge, a kind of church" (Thomas, 2005, 157).

1910 Cossington Smith attends art classes with Dattilo Rubbo in Sydney.
1912-14 Cossington Smith travels to Europe, attending art classes in England and Germany.
1913 Ernest and Grace Smith rent the house at 43 Ku-Ring-Gai Ave Turramurra from Mr Baker.
1914 Cossington Smith rejoins her family in the new home at Turramurra. She would live at Cossington for the next 65 years.
1914 Cossington Smith's father builds a small studio in the garden for her to paint in, as she recalled: "father was a dear, so was my mother; both of them were keen about my painting, and my father built me that dear little studio down at the bottom of the garden, a perfect studio" (Hart, 2005, 11).

1915. Cossington Smith exhibits "The Sock Knitter", an important early work of modern Australian art, based on her sister Madge seated at Cossington. It is later described by Daniel Thomas as "perhaps the first fully Post Impressionist work painted in Australia" (Johnson, 1995, p.451).
1920. Ernest Smith buys the Turramurra house, renaming it "Cossington". Ernest and Grace had also given this name to their first house in Wycombe Road Neutral Bay - "in memory of the Leicestershire parish where Grace Fisher's father had been Rector" (Modjeska, 1999, 214).

1928. At the age of 36 Cossington Smith holds her first solo art exhibition at the Grosvenor Galleries. From 1932 she would hold a further 18 solo exhibitions at the Macquarie Galleries in Sydney. She would also participate in many group exhibitions and be awarded the OBE and the OA.
1931. Cossington Smith's mother passes away.
1938. Cossington Smith's father passes away on 29 September.

1939 Grace and two sisters move out to lodgings in a house nearby in Womerah Street for a few months while "a large well-lit studio was added to the house, to which other minor alterations were also made by the architect Bertram Chisholm" (Thomas, 1973 and Thomas, personal communication, 2006). The studio in the garden gradually deteriorates (considered to be in dangerous state of ill-repair by the late 1970s, it is demolished by Cossington Smith's neice after 1979). The original door from the garden studio is moved to the house-based studio.

1962 Cossington Smith's last surviving sibling Charlotte passes away, leaving Cossington to live alone at Cossington for the next 17 years.

1973 A major retrospective exhibition of Cossington Smith's work is curated by Daniel Thomas at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and tours nationally in all mainland states.
1979 Cossington Smith moves from Cossington to live in a nursing home in Roseville.
1984 Cossington Smith passes away on 20 December. She leaves Cossington to her brother's three children, one of which, Ann Mills, has already been living there since 1979. Ann's brother and sister sell their shares of the house to Ann, happy to keep the house witin the family.
2005 A major retrospective of Cossington Smith's work is curated by Deborah Hart at the National Gallery of Australia and tours nationally.


Comments by art historians:
"Henri Bergson's theory of vitalism, the inner, vibrant living force of all matter so well captured by Cossington Smith in the vivid contrasts of red and green and of solid and broken form in the furniture of 'The Lacquer Room' [c.1935], has been desribed by Mary Eagle as a unifying theme in the work of many Australian artists of the time. For Cossington Smith, though, light was to become both the symbol of her Anglican beliefs and the inspiration and method of her painting'. . . Commenting on the use of her characteristic square brush style, she said: 'I use squares because I feel that in that way that light can be put into the colour'. . . . In her most sophisticated paintings, her later depictions of interiors, Cossington Smith was to give the fleeting moment the awe and dignity of a lasting monument. Small moments of daily living - clothes strewn on a chair, beds made and unmade, windows and wardrobes open or shut - are imbued with spiritual everlastingness by the vibrancy of colour and light, a juncture of the ordinary and the sublime. . . " (Johnson, 1995, p.151)

"Juxtaposed pure colours, applied with a distinctive broad brushstroke, depict intimate views of her home, light-filled and spiritual. She described her work as 'expressing form in colour, colour vibrant with light - but containing this other, silent quality which is unconscious, and belongs to all things created'. (Johnson, 1995, p.451)

"'Interior in Yellow' was begun [probably in 1962]. . . Like the ecstatic, abstract draperies that fill Old Master paintings, the rumpled bed cover and unspecific cloths are devices that connect the spectator to a surge of visual and emotional energy. . .
"The fullness and density of light and air in a particular contained space are certainly here, but a general statement of delight in the morning's silent annunciation of each new day, and its purification of inner space is also apparent. There are dreams and memory of a mother, father, sisters, brother and friends. Bedroom stillness, pain and death are present, but so too is sleep - as a source of renewal and revivification. 'Interior in Yellow' is a rare philosophical meditation upon the unerotic bedroom, chaste but filled with psychic shimmer. And by contrast there is also the unquiet crackle of tense, bounce-back energy surging between inwardness and the outside world. The body was cracking up but Grace was still high-spirited." (Thomas, 2005, 161)

"I was curator of Australian art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in the 1960s and 70s, and prepared the touring exhibition that in 1973 first brought Grace Cossington Smith's work to an Australia-wide audience. I am now retired, as Emeritus Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia. Last year when the National Gallery of Australia prepared another major touring exhibition of Cossington Smith's work I contributed essays to the exhibition book, and I have since further reconsidered her work.
"I would submit a stronger case, for national as well as State heritage significance.
"I now believe that Grace Cossington Smith is more than 'a leading twentieth-century Australian artist'. She is probably the best Australian woman artist of any century, and the best Australian artist of any kind working in the 1920s and 30s. Her later work, more profound and inward than the earlier work, cannot be compared with the very different work of great artists like Sidney Nolan or Fred Williams, but is equal to theirs in excellence. All her paintings have extraordinary vitality; they live, and they express joy in living in an Australian bushland suburb and a great Australian city.
"Her later work often takes its subject matter from the house and garden at Cossington, where her first studio, from 1914, was a hut built for her in the garden; then in 1939 a studio was added to the house itself. The late paintings evoke the lives of several women, artist friends, a sister who was a nurse, and their World War II activities, including church-going. The fact that the house, before the artist's father bought it, had been built as a Quaker meeting house, helped reinforce the sacramental delight in simple living that fills the artist's paintings." (Daniel Thomas, 2006)

"I am not sure there is another artist in the entire history of Australian art for whom there can be the same two-fold association of firstly, a house in which the artist lived for entirety of a career - more than six decades - and secondly, where the interior structure itself - ie the rooms inside - formed the basis of subject matter pursued with magnificent and profoundly spiritual dedication over that time." (Barry Pearce, 2006)

"[Listing Cossington on the SHR] is a wonderful gesture to a very important Australian artist whose work relates so closely to her own home and its surrounds." (Catherine Speck, 2006)

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Creating works of art-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Architectural styles and periods - Federation Queen Anne-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Valuing women's contributions-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Religion-Activities associated with particular systems of faith and worship Practising Quakerism-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Grace Cossington Smith, modernist artist-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Ernest Augustus Smith, Solicitor General-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Cossington is likely to be of State heritage significance for its association with women's history in NSW. Cossington Smith's art works represent a widespread but especially feminine perspective on Australian culture - as viewed from the interior of an upper middle-class suburban house. Cossington is also likely to be considered of at least local heritage significance for its historical relationship with the Quakers in NSW.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
As the adult home of Grace Cossington Smith and the subject of many of her finest paintings, Cossington is of State heritage significance for its association with this leading twentieth century Australian artist.
Cossington is also of local heritage significance for its previous use as a Quaker meeting house, still apparent in the wooden lined ceilings in the room now used as living room and dining room.
Cossington is also of local heritage significance for its association with Cossington Smith's father Ernest Augustus Smith, a lawyer who was the NSW Solicitor General 1891-1894 (before buying the house). He also led his professional association of notaries the for a time. "The profession, and the community service, might be considered characteristic of those who lived in the highland suburbs on the North Shore Line" (Thomas, 2006).
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Cossington is of local heritage significance for its architectural qualities as a Federation bungalow designed by Dixon & Adam, and for its garden and contribution to the streetscape. The room that was the Quaker meeting room is also of aesthetic significance for its impressive kauri-board ceilings with fine cedar screen and decorative leadlight panels, as well as its rough hewn stone fireplaces.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
As the long-time home of one of Australia's leading artists and the subject of many of her finest paintings, Cossington is of State significance with respect to its research potential for art historians.
Integrity/Intactness: Modifications since 1979 are minor and largely reversible if desired.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0176318 Aug 06 1036538
Local Environmental Plan  19 Jul 91   
Heritage study  01 Jan 86   
National Trust of Australia register  714201 Dec 85   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenBruce James1990Grace Cossington Smith
WrittenDaniel Thomas1993Grace Cossington Smith: A life: From drawings in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia
WrittenDaniel Thomas1988Grace Cossington Smith, Australian Dictionary of Biography View detail
WrittenDaniel Thomas1973Grace Cossington Smith, retrospective exhibition catalogue
WrittenDrusilla Modjeska1999Stravinsky's Lunch
WrittenEdwards, Dr. Zeny2009Grand Homes of the North Shore - a tour conducted by Zeny Edwards for the NSW Historic Houses Trust
WrittenKathie Reith and Jenny Madeline (researchers)2006Email correspondence correcting HO entry on Cossington
WrittenLauren Martin2005"Modern message from the extreme end of niceness"
WrittenNational Gallery of Australia webpage - exhibitions - previous - Cossington Smith   View detail
WrittenSebastian Smee2005"Grace in favour" Weekend Australian 19-20 March

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5049865
File number: H05/00060


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