Grace Cossington Smith’s very early work depicts members of her immediate family. The sock knitter is considered to be one of the first Post-Impressionist paintings undertaken in Australia. Painted when the artist was still a student of Dattilo Rubbo, it is a portrait of her sister Madge knitting socks for the soldiers in World War I. For all its quiet domesticity there is also sense of daring in the taut structure and repeated patterns of pyramidal shapes.
The sock knitter, Quaker girl and The reader form a distinctive small grouping. The women seated in these interiors wear long skirts, as was customary in the late Edwardian era. The works are painted with a similar palette, and the thick, choppy brushstrokes reflect an awareness of the British Post-Impressionists. The subjects are the artist’s sisters Madge and Diddy, and there is an element of theatre as they take on the roles of the sock knitter, the Quaker and the reader. Documentary photographs of the time also reveal that the camera played a part in the staging of these images.
Cossington Smith’s works reveal her interest in a range of subject matter during these years, from images relating to World War I, to portraits and domestic interiors. Like other artists taking classes with Dattilo Rubbo she began to receive criticism from anti-modernist critics for her bold, non-representational use of colour and sense of pattern.
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