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The sock knitter



Grace Cossington Smith


1892 - 20 Dec 1984


Grace Cossington Smith's 'The sock knitter' has been acclaimed as the first post-impressionist painting to be exhibited in Australia. A remarkable student work, the painting signalled a challenge to the artistic traditions of the time. The extreme flattening of the picture plane and the use of bright, expressive, broken colour applied in broad brush-strokes to delineate form reflects the aesthetic concerns of European painters such as Cézanne, Matisse and van Gogh.

The subject of the painting is Madge, the artist's sister, knitting socks for soldiers serving on the frontline in World War I. Distinctly modern in its outlook, 'The sock knitter' counterpoints the usual narratives of masculine heroism in wartime by focusing instead on the quiet steady efforts of the woman at home.


Place where the work was made

Turramurra Sydney New South Wales Australia



Media category


Materials used

oil on canvas


61.8 x 51.2 x 1.7 cm stretcher; 77.2 x 66.0 x 6.4 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed l.l. corner, red oil "G.C.Smith". Not dated.
Signed and dated top c. verso on canvas, pen and black ink "... 1914-1918/ G. Cossington Smith".


Purchased 1960

Accession number


Artist information

Grace Cossington Smith

Artist profile

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 12 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 53 publications


Betty Churcher, Australian notebooks, 'Art Gallery of New South Wales', pg. 45-90, Melbourne, 2014, front cover (colour illus., detail), 70, 71 (colour illus.), 255.

Jackie de Diana, Look, 'Art and Australia: More views of European preludes and parallels', pg. 16-17, Sydney, Nov 2010, 16.

Deborah Edwards, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Moderns', pg. 103-104, Sydney, 2000, 103-104, 113, 302.

Joanna Gilmour, Portrait profile: Grace Cossington Smith, 'Portrait profile', pg. 2-7, Canberra, 2009, 3 (colour illus.).

Anne Gray, Grace Cossington Smith, 'The sock knitter', pg. 118-121, Canberra, 2005, 12 (colour illus.), 24, 118 (colour illus.), 92, 95, 103, 119-121, 123, 127, 174.

Sasha Grishin, Australian art: a history, 'The shock of early modernism', pg. 206-217, Carlton, 2013, 210 (colour illus.), 211, 549, 558. plate no. 21.3

Lelsey Harding, Art and Australia (Vol. 36, No. 4), 'Tempe Manning: the lost modernist', pg. 532-537, Sydney, 1999, 532 (colour illus.).

Lesley Harding, Cubism & Australian art, 'L'Esprit Nouveau 1913-1929', pg. 19-47, Melbourne, 2009, 25 (colour illus.).

Deborah Hart, Look, 'Grace Cossington Smith: looking bakc at a life of colour and light', pg. 28-31, Sydney, Nov 2005, 28.

Dr Deborah Hart, Symposium papers: Colour in art - revisiting 1919 & R-Balson, 'Beatrice Irwin and Grace Cossington Smith: women on the wings of colour in art', pg. 17-22, Sydney, 2008, 18-19.

Bruce James, Australian painters of the twentieth century, 'Grace Cossington Smith', pg. 40-51, Sydney, 2000, 42.

Bruce James, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'In the shadow of the master', pg. 3, Sydney, 28 Nov 1998, 3. This appears in the Sprectrum section of the newspaper.

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Painting and Sculpture', pg. 102-181, Sydney, 1999, 132 (colour illus.).

Jenny McFarlane, Art and Australia (Vol. 43, No. 2), 'Grace Cossington Smith: a golden thread running through time', pg. 171-172, Sydney, Dec 2005-Feb 2006, 171.

Drusilla Modjeska, The Weekend Australian magazine, 'A woman's lot', pg. 22-25, Sydney, 21 Aug 1999-22 Aug 1999, 23 (colour illus.).

Drusilla Modjeska, Brought to Light: Australian Art 1850–1965 from the Queensland Art Gallery collection, 'A Singular Portrait. Grace Cossington Smith Portrait of a man', pg. 120-123, Brisbane, 1998, 120, 122 (illus.), 123.

Barry Pearce, The Weekend Australian, 'Time makes its judgment', pg. 2-3, Sydney, 12 Aug 2000-13 Aug 2000, 2 (colour illus.). This colour supplement is a 'Review Special' published for the 'Weekend Australian'. It consists of a four-page, colour wrap-around for the 'Weekend Australian Review'. 'The Australian' was the media sponsor for the AGNSW Exhibition 'Australian Icons', for the Olympic Arts Festival 2000.

Ursula Prunster, Look, 'Australian Painters: Seeing Cézanne', pg. 20-21, Heidelberg, Nov 1998, 20 (colour illus.).

Ursula Prunster, Australian painters; Seeing Cézanne, 'Modernism arrives', pg. 5-6, Sydney, 1998, 6, 17 (colour illus.), 31. 35

Ursula Prunster, Classic Cézanne, 'Seeing Cézanne: Australian affinities', pg. 61-71, Sydney, 1998, 62, 64 (colour illus.). figure no. 27

Susannah Smith, Look, 'Women's work: their diverse and significant contribution to the modernist art scene', pg. 13-15, Sydney, Aug 2013, 14.

Virginia Spate, Art Monthly Australia, 'Amazing Grace: Thoughts inspired by the Grace Cossington Smith exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra', pg. 22-30, Canberra, Aug 2005, 22 (colour illus.), 23-24.

Peter Stanley, Digger Smith and Australia's Great War: ordinary name--extraordinary stories, 'The Smiths at home', pg. 82-93, Sydney, 2011, 85 (colour illus.), 358.

Daniel Thomas, Sydney moderns: art for a new world, 'Foreword', pg. 11-12, Sydney, 2013, 11, 29 (colour illus.), 315.

Daniel Thomas, Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, 'Grace Cossington Smith', pg. 510-521, Sydney, Jan 1970, 511 (illus.), 512.

Roland Wakelin, Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, 'Post Impressionism in Sydney: Some personal recollections', pg. 91-95, Sydney, Jan 1962, 91.

Anthony White, The Cambridge companion to Australian Art, 'Foreign natives: Australian Modernism 1915-1955', pg. 109-121, Port Melbourne, 2011, 110, 353. 9.1 (colour illus.), between pg. 124 and 125.

Judith White, Look, 'Looking back at the AGNSW… when there was only one curator: Daniel Thomas in conversation with Steven Miller' edited, pg. 31-34, Sydney, Dec 2009-Jan 2010, 31 (colour illus.), 32.

Judith White, Look, 'Life, love and the woman artist', pg. 22, Melbourne, Sep 1999, 22.

Important Australian art. Auction 3 May 2017, 2017, 59 (colour illus.).

Concerning the Spiritual: The influence of the Theosophical Society on Australian Artists 1890-1934, 'Science versus Spirit: Colour-Music in Sydney', pg. 122-153, North Melbourne, 2012, 144.

The CBUS collection of Australian art, Melbourne, 2009, 67.

1001 paintings you must see before you die, London, 2007, (colour illus.).

Scribblers: a ladies literary society in Brisbane 1911, 'Highly achieving women', pg. 10-17, Kenmore, 2007, 11 (colour illus.), 12.

The new McCulloch's encyclopedia of Australian art, ‘Australian art and artists’, pg. 190-199, Carlton, 2006, 194.

Painting ghosts: Australian women artists in wartime, Melbourne, 2004, 55 (colour illus.), 56, 229. 24

Living stones: St Swithun's Pymble 1901 - 2001, Wahroonga, 2001, 42 (illus.).

Australian history and citizenship, 'Australia and World War I', pg. 70-103, South Yarra, 2000, 84 (colour illus.). source 2.27; NSW Secondary School History syllabus

Stravinsky's lunch, 'To Paint What She Saw: Grace Cossington Smith', pg. 203-334, Sydney, 1999, (colour illus.). plate no. 17

Exhibitions events - Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Nov 1998-Jan 1999, back (colour illus.).

Australia's best painters: Tom Roberts, Hugh Ramsay and Thea Proctor, Port Melbourne, 1997, 8, 28, 38.

Good Weekend, Sydney, 20 Jul 1996, 8,22.

Advance Australia Fair, 1991, (illus.).

Australian painting 1788-1990, 'Leviticus 1913-32', pg. 167-204, South Melbourne, 1991, 173, 185 (colour illus.). plate no. 106

Grace Cossington Smith, 'The knitter', pg. 26-36, Sydney, 1990, 30, 31 (colour illus.), 32-36, 38, 41, 48, 161. plate no. 4

Australian Modern Painting Between the Wars 1914-1939, 'Light in Sydney', pg. 30-41, Sydney, 1989, 32.

Twentieth century Australian masterworks from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Fred Williams Pilbara Series, Tokyo, 1985, 20 (colour illus.). 5

Project 21: Women's images of women, Sydney, 1977, (illus.). 40; Collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, 'Acquisitions for 1960', pg. 58-67, Sydney, Apr 1961, 58, 61 (illus.).

Beyond the battlefield: Women artists of the two world wars, London, 2014, 49,50, 51 (colour illus.), 278.

Art from Australia: 2016 calender, Sydney, 2015, n.pag. (colour illus.). month of August

To paint a war: The lives of the Australian artists who painted the Great War, 1914-1918, Port Melbourne, 2017, 152 (colour illus.).

Texts and textiles: Affect, synaesthesia and metaphor in fiction, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2016, 119 (illus.).