Important Australian + International Fine Art
1 December 2022


(1860 - 1940)

oil on canvas

59.0 x 43.0 cm

signed lower right: ISO RAE 

$40,000 – $60,000
Sold for $128,864 (inc. BP) in Auction 72 - 1 December 2022, Melbourne

Jules de Beaumont, France, acquired directly from the artist, c.1909
Thence by descent
Private collection, France
Thence by descent
Private collection, France 


55e Exposition de la Société des Amis des Arts de Douai, Douai, France, 1909, cat. 222 

Catalogue text

Following formal training at the National Gallery School in Melbourne alongside Frederick McCubbin, Tom Roberts and Jane Sutherland, Isobel Rae and her sister Alison travelled to Paris in 1887 with their mother, intending to further their promising artistic studies.1 Although they would encounter many visiting compatriots in the vibrant expatriate artistic colony of Étaples, a fishing port on the north-western Opal Coast of France where they settled in 1893, they were never to return to Australia. Iso Rae remained unmarried and was closely attached to her family. Her impressionist paintings depicted the humble fisherfolk of the village with compassion and respect for the local culture and customs. In 1906, fellow expatriate artist Grace Joel praised Rae’s ability to ‘paint outdoor figure subjects with rare charm and poetry.’2Une Tricoteuse (A Knitter), c.1909 is one such work – a tender portrait of a young local peasant woman knitting in the garden, lost in reverie, and bathed in brilliant sunlight.
In the same manner as leading impressionists back home, Iso Rae mostly worked in the open air, direct from the motif. Utilising life-drawing skills acquired at the progressive Académie Colarossi in Paris, Rae achieved some level of success in the style of genre painting, regularly sending paintings to the Old Salon, the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts, the Royal Society of British Painters and other local salons. In the summer of 1910 when her former National Gallery classmate Hilda Rix Nicholas arrived in Étaples, Iso Rae obtained a studio space for her in the garden of Monsieur and Madame Monthuys-Pannier, adjacent to one occupied by Jules Adler, a successful French genre painter known for his style of social realism as ‘the painter of the people.’3 Alder’s influence on both Rae and Rix Nicholas can be keenly felt in their humanistic portraits recording the ordinary lives of the women of Étaples while the men were out at sea. Models were apparently plentiful and would pose well for a small payment, either in the studio or in the picturesque gardens that lie hidden behind the street doors.4
The young knitter stands alone in a garden, absent mindedly attending to her domestic chores, perhaps while she watches over children at play. She wears a simple outfit, her hair uncovered without the traditional calipette (Breton bonnet). Using lilac tones highlighted with impasto white and pale pink pigment, the figure of the woman blends harmoniously with the immersive green hues of her background. Rae pays particular focus to light and texture, from the soft modulated greens of the moist garden to the structural deep pleats of the woman’s blouse and coarse knitting dangling from her hands. Her emphasis on the tactile qualities of both the paint and the landscape is shared with other exponents of Australian Impressionism.5 The large scale of the figure and absence of a horizon line is characteristic of Rae’s work of this period, as can be seen also in the format of Young Girl, Étaples, c.1892, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. The flush of youth and private smile of this young woman hint to an inner life beyond her immediate domestic travail and creates a peaceful and intimate atmosphere with the viewer.
After its exhibition in a local salon in Douai in 1909, Une Tricoteuse was purchased by a well-regarded local magistrate who collected paintings from this region including others by Frits Thaulow, William Gore, and Henri Le Sidaner. Having been passed down within his family in France, this is the first time that the painting has been seen in Australia.
1. Finucane, P. and Stuart, C., Odd Roads To Be Walking, Red Barn Publishing, Ireland, 2019, p. 27
2. Joel, G., cited in Field, I., Letters from Alison and Iso Rae, Ivory Print, Victoria, 2011, p. 92
3. Travers, R., Hilda. The Life of Hilda Rix Nicholas, Thames and Hudson, Melbourne, 2021, p. 45
4. As related by artist Jane Quigley in ‘Picardy: A Quiet Simple Land of Dreamy Beauty Where Artists Fine Much to Paint’, The Craftsman, London, vol. XII, June 1907
5. Gray, A. and Hesson, A. (eds.), She-Oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2021, p. 188