The artist Sybil Craig (1901-1989), only child of affluent parents Matthew Francis Craig and Winifred Frances, née Major, grew up surrounded by artists and musicians. She was privately tutored in art by the notable artist John Shirlow, and then studied (1924-31) at the National Gallery of Victoria’s school of painting with Bernard Hall, William McInnes and Charles Wheeler. She is mainly known for her still lifes and portraits in oil, watercolour and pastels, but she also designed book plates and emblems.

Unknown photographer, Sybil Craig on ship with sailors, gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1920- ca. 1925, Australian Manuscripts Collection, MS13111/3/1501

Sybil was a foundation member of the New Melbourne Art Club and, during the 1930s and 1940s, exhibited with the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, the Victorian Artists Society and the Twenty Melbourne Painters.

In 1945 Craig became an official war artist – one of the first women war artists in Australia – commissioned by the Australian War Memorial to record work at the Commonwealth Explosives Factory at Maribyrnong. As well as the Australian War Memorial, her work is held by the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, State Library Victoria, Art Gallery of South Australia, and Victorian regional galleries.

Both Craig and her mother Winifred, were avid collectors of Australiana. Craig bequeathed to the State Library a large collection of valuable books on art and Australiana, an extensive collection of Australian and international bookplates, an important collection of early Victorian photographs acquired by her mother, and many significant paintings, all enriching the Library’s collections.


Above are two examples of early photography acquired through the Sybil Craig Bequest: (1)
Unknown photographer, Watch the birdie! unidentified man with his daughter, ambrotype, ca. 1855-ca. 1860, Pictures Collection,  H90.90/33, (2) Unknown photographer, Portrait photograph of an unidentified little girl, ambrotype with hand colouring, ca. 1855-ca. 1860, Pictures Collection,  H90.90/16

The Sybil Craig Archive held by the Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library Victoria, contains biographical material relating to Craig, including correspondence (ranging from the 1920s to the 1980s), diaries, scrapbooks and press clippings, invitations, exhibition programmes, account books and receipts, published material and business documents.


Images: (1) Sybil Craig, Self portraitoil on composition board, ca. 1934, Pictures Collection, H89.282; (2) Unknown photographer, Young man on deck of ship, gelatin silver photograph with hand colouring, ca. 1930, Australian Manuscripts Collection, MS13111/3/1372  

The collection is extraordinary for its large pictorial component: over 1700 photographs (biographical and historical), more than 280 works on paper (prints and drawings), quite a number of beautiful bookplates, and some realia (including textiles, locks of hair, and printing plates).


Images: (1) Algernon Darge, Man on motorcycle in velodrome, gelatin silver photograph, 1910, Australian Manuscripts Collection, MS13111/3/1694; (2) Unknown photographer, Chinese Medicine practitioner in his dispensary, gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1910, Australian Manuscripts Collection, MS13111/3/1640

Amongst the photography, there are many portraits of Craig by notable photographers. We see her development from a beautiful child into a glamorous young woman, travelling and socialising with her friends. A large selection of photographs from the Archive have been digitised and are now available online.



Images: (1) Unknown photographer, Portrait of Sybil Craig at age 3, gelatin silver photograph, 1904, Australian Manuscripts Collection    MS13111/3/1472; (2) Talma & Co., Sybil Craig in ballet costumegelatin silver photograph, ca. 1912, Australian Manuscripts Collection    MS13111/3/1662; (3) Broothorn Studios, Studio portrait of Sybil Craig as a young woman, gelatin silver photograph, ca. 1920-ca. 1925, Australian Manuscripts Collection, MS13111/3/1614; (4) Unknown photographer, Sybil Craig in evening dress, gelatin silver photograph with hand colouring, ca. 1925, Australian Manuscripts Collection, MS13111/3/1489



Craig, Sybil Mary Frances (1901–1989); Reilly, Dianne; Australian Dictionary of Biography

Olga Tsara, Librarian, Heritage Collections

This article has 7 comments

  1. Christine Simons

    I met Sybil Craig a few times, visited her fascinating house. My photo of her and Irene Barberis I think is in the collection, she was a sweetheart.

    • It’s always lovely to hear people’s first-hand recollections. By all accounts, Sybil Craig was delightful. Thank you for sharing this. Very best, Olga

  2. I bought a couple of beautiful Sybil Craig charcoal or pencil portraits quite a few years ago. I would love to know who the elderly lady (one portrait) and who the elderly gentleman(second portrait ) are.
    I get much pleasure from them.

    • Thanks for your question Louise. I’ve transferred your inquiry to our Ask-a-librarian service.
      You’ll be hearing from us soon.


    • Hi Louise,
      We have tried to reply to the email address you supplied- but it bounces back.

      To help us look into your question, would you please be able to upload photos of the portraits and/or provide any further details you have of them (such as where/when they were purchased)?”

      You can upload them via our enquiry formenquiry formenquiry form.
      You can attach a file after the question details have been submitted.


  3. Sybil was a remarkable artist. I used to meet her at Jim Alexander’s exhibitions. I bought many of her pictures. When I spoke to her she had poor vision but I noticed still drove her little car. I told her I bought a picture and she said oh dear I hope it doesn’t take the place of a more important one. She was a remarkable memorable woman.Jim Alexander was also perfectly wonderful

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