Important Australian + International Fine Art
3 May 2023


(1916 - 1981)

oil on composition board

75.0 x 61.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: G Grey Smith / 63
original artist’s frame

$25,000 – $35,000
Sold for $46,636 (inc. BP) in Auction 74 - 3 May 2023, Melbourne

Christian Brothers College, Perth
Private collection, Perth, acquired from the above in 1963
Thence by descent
Private collection, Queensland


Guy and Helen Grey–Smith, Christian Brothers College, Perth, 28 October – 9 November 1963, cat. 9


Gaynor, A., Guy Grey–Smith: Life Force, University of Western Australia Publishing, Perth, 2012, p. 258

Catalogue text

In December 1962, Guy Grey-Smith and his artist-wife Helen travelled to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) for eight weeks. Guy carried a list of Sri Lankan artists and potters he wished to meet, or at least seek out their work; and subsequently delivered a lecture one night near the end of their stay. Unfortunately, his health was not robust having suffered a relapse some years earlier due to the tuberculosis he contracted during World War Two and was forced to seek advice from a chest clinic in Colombo shortly after the new year. This resulted in a prolonged stay in hospital and this image of a nursing sister doing her late night rounds in the wards no doubt stirred strong emotional memories for the artist, recalling his own time as a patient over the years, first as a desperately wounded POW following his near fatal leap from a burning plane during World War II (his left leg remained two-centimetres short as a result); and his subsequent infection by tuberculosis (family lore says he did this whilst assisting in the digging of an escape tunnel). This was then followed by the removal of half a lung due to the disease, an operation undertaken in 1944 whilst still a prisoner. The Grey-Smith’s return from Sri Lanka, however, was sweetened by the announcement that Guy had just been awarded ‘Best WA Entry’ in the Perth Prize for Contemporary Art for the tough and edgy Roebourne Pass.
It was on his release following a POW exchange in 1944 that Grey-Smith began art studies at the famed Chelsea School of Arts in London. He developed his own methods of paint application using paint bulked up with a home-made beeswax emulsion, applied using scrapers onto a Masonite board prepared with an adhered layer of muslin. The years 1962 to 1966 may be considered as ‘classic’ years for Guy Grey-Smith as he gained greater confidence and fluency with his chosen technique; and Night sister, 1963, effectively demonstrates these aspects utilising a colour palette seen in contemporaneous paintings, such as View to the beach (Quinns), 1964, now in the Wesfarmers Collection, Perth; and Whyalla, c.1963, owned by Adelaide University.
Night sister was exhibited as part of an incredible two-person exhibition that the couple held in October 1963 at the then-vacant Christian Brothers School in Perth. Their buildings were temporarily operating as a branch of the Adult Education Board and, spectacularly, the Grey-Smiths selected the enormous gymnasium as venue. Guy’s paintings, watercolours and drawings were perfectly augmented by Helen’s silkscreened fabrics making the vast space resonate with colour and design. Night sister has remained in the same family collection since its purchase there in 1963, and retains its original frame, made by the artist himself.