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.
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".
© Estate of Grace Cossington Smith
Where the work was made
Shown in 12 exhibitions
Thirty-sixth Annual Exhibition of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales (1915), Exhibition Gallery Department of Public Instruction, Sydney, Oct 1915 -
Purchases and Acquisitions for 1960, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 Mar 1961–23 Apr 1961
Grace Cossington Smith (1973-74):
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 15 Jun 1973–15 Jul 1973
- Queensland Art Gallery, South Brisbane 06 Sep 1973–04 Oct 1973
- Western Australian Art Gallery, Perth 06 Dec 1973–02 Jan 1974
- Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide 11 Jan 1974–10 Feb 1974
- National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], Melbourne 26 Mar 1974–28 Apr 1974
Project 21 - Womens images of women (1977), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Oct 1977–13 Nov 1977
Twentieth century Australian masterworks from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Fred Williams Pilbara series from the collection of CRA Limited, Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, 04 Oct 1985–06 Nov 1985
Australian Painters Seeing Cézanne, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 28 Nov 1998–17 Jan 1999
Australian icons: twenty artists from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 04 Aug 2000–03 Dec 2000
Grace Cossington Smith: a retrospective exhibition (2005):
Australian modern masterpieces from the Art Gallery of New South Wales:
Sydney Moderns, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 06 Jul 2013–07 Oct 2013
Follow the Flag: Australian artists at war 1914-1945, Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 24 Apr 2015–16 Aug 2015
O'Keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernism:
- Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne 12 Oct 2016–19 Feb 2017
- Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane 11 Mar 2017–11 Jun 2017
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 01 Jul 2017–02 Oct 2017
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, Classic Cézanne, 'Seeing Cézanne: Australian affinities', pg. 61-71, Sydney, 1998, 62, 64 (colour illus.). figure no. 27
Ursula Prunster, Australian painters; Seeing Cézanne, 'Modernism arrives', pg. 5-6, Sydney, 1998, 6, 17 (colour illus.), 31. cat.no. 35
Ursula Prunster, Look, 'Australian Painters: Seeing Cézanne', pg. 20-21, Heidelberg, Nov 1998, 20 (colour illus.).
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. fig.no. 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.
Stravinsky's lunch, 'To Paint What She Saw: Grace Cossington Smith', pg. 203-334, Sydney, 1999, (colour illus.). plate no. 17
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
Living stones: St Swithun's Pymble 1901 - 2001, Wahroonga, 2001, 42 (illus.).
Exhibitions events - Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Nov 1998-Jan 1999, back (colour illus.).
Painting ghosts: Australian women artists in wartime, Melbourne, 2004, 55 (colour illus.), 56, 229. illus.no. 24
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.).
Beyond the battlefield: Women artists of the two world wars, London, 2014, 49,50, 51 (colour illus.), 278.
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.). cat.no. 5
Project 21: Women's images of women, Sydney, 1977, (illus.). cat.no. 40; Collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales
The new McCulloch's encyclopedia of Australian art, ‘Australian art and artists’, pg. 190-199, Carlton, 2006, 194.
Important Australian art. Auction 3 May 2017, 2017, 59 (colour illus.).
To paint a war: The lives of the Australian artists who painted the Great War, 1914-1918, Port Melbourne, 2017, 152 (colour illus.).
Scribblers: a ladies literary society in Brisbane 1911, 'Highly achieving women', pg. 10-17, Kenmore, 2007, 11 (colour illus.), 12.
Texts and textiles: Affect, synaesthesia and metaphor in fiction, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2016, 119 (illus.).
Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, 'Acquisitions for 1960', pg. 58-67, Sydney, Apr 1961, 58, 61 (illus.).
1001 paintings you must see before you die, London, 2007, (colour illus.).
The CBUS collection of Australian art, Melbourne, 2009, 67.
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.
Art from Australia: 2016 calender, Sydney, 2015, n.pag. (colour illus.). month of August