Pioneering artists Margaret Preston, Grace Cossington Smith and Georgia O’Keeffe explored remarkably similar ideas.

Australian audiences are familiar with the work of Margaret Preston – her still lifes are a permanent fixture at the Art Gallery of New South Wales – and Grace Cossington Smith, whose paintings of the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s construction are almost as iconic as the landmark itself.

An exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW, however, allows audiences to re-examine the artists in a broader, international context, presenting their work alongside one of the most significant American painters of the 20th century, the “mother of American Modernism”, Georgia O’Keeffe.

Making Modernism Georgia O’Keeffe, Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory, 1938, oil on canvas, 50.8 x 76.2 cm, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Gift of The Burnett Foundation © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

A collaboration between the Art Gallery of NSW, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Queensland Art Gallery and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, O’Keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernismdraws parallels between the three artists who, while being exact contemporaries, had little or nothing to do with each other.

Given that there were no personal connections between the artists,...