Art historian Mary Eagle once described Australian modernist Sybil Craig as “devastatingly direct” and “almost overwhelmingly vital.” She was born in 1901 to affluent parents and grew up a tomboy, going on to study at the National Gallery School under Bernard Hall and George Bell.
In 1945, Sybil was the third woman to be appointed an official war artist and the first to be stationed at munitions factories. Her scenes of women at work are bold and bright – supplemented by popular studies of florals and still lives. Between the wars however, something in her practice shifted.
An Unexpected Woman
On a fellowship from the State Library of Victoria, playwright Monica Raszewski developed a play about Sybil that ruminates on the division between public and private – what must be exhibited to the world, and what is privately felt. Sybil grew up in a time when her life choices – not to marry, to pursue art and experimental art at that – would have been unusual.
There is a photograph of Sybil, circa 1925, sitting between two sailors wearing a navy hat and rolled up trousers, smoking a cigarette. Another of her as a child, posed for the camera in her ballet costume, dressed like a profiterole. There remains an irrevocable gap between historical records and someone’s reality; a gap we can only breach through the traces they leave, “experiments” created at the kitchen table.
Represented at the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of South Australia, State Library of Victoria and across regional galleries, Sybil is a luminous yet under-observed figure of Australian modernism.
'Boats Moving Through Valleys'
'Cacti and Shells'
Explore our full Sybil Craig collection here