20 March 2009

Emanuel Phillips Fox - an Australian Impressionist

Emanuel Phillips Fox 1865-1915 was born in Melbourne in 1865. He began to learn art at  Melbourne's National Gallery Art School.

Whistler, Symphony in White 

In 1887, at 22, he moved to Par­is to learn at the Academie Julian and the Fine Arts School with the masters, and was lucky enough to study with the French master artist Jean Leon Gerome. So who were Fox’s role models? James Whistler and John Singer Sargent had also been trained in Paris and were also clear­ly infl­ue­n­ced by impressionism, espec­ially Claude Monet. Consider one of Whistler's earliest portraits, Sym­phony in White 1862. And consider a Sargent portrait of The Dau­gh­ters of Edward Darly Boit, Am­ericans living in Paris 1882. Phillips Fox would have loved these works to have been his own.

Sargent, Daughters of E.D.Boit

We can also com­p­are the subject matter of the young Australian man with that of Mary Cassatt, Auguste Renoir and Berthe Morisot eg Reading 1873. You can smell the fresh summer grass in all the paint­ings and feel the dap­p­led sun on the women’s dres­ses. Str­o­k­es of light filled colour flitted on the canvas Impressionists’ surface, as they did for Phillips Fox later.

Morisot,  Reading

Fox returned to Aust­ralia in 1892 and although he was still young, an exhibition of his art was well received. Luckily for Australian art, Fox founded the Melb­our­ne Art School in Bourke St in 1892 with fellow art­ist, Tudor St Geor­ge Tucker (d1906).

Dur­ing 1894 they held a summer school at Ch­arter­is­ville, an old mansion in Heidelberg, modelling their teac­h­ing on Fr­en­ch st­udio and plein-air painting practices. This property had be­l­onged to another Australian painter who had studied in Paris, Wal­ter With­ers. But whereas Charterisville had been used prev­ious­ly for week­end paint­ing camps by the men, Fox opened a perm­an­ent sum­mer art school for women.

Fox,  Art Students

Of all the artists painting in Melb­ourne at the turn of the cen­t­ury, Phillips Fox’s work came closest to the style and tech­n­ique of Fren­ch Impressionism. And even more, the subject matter he selected. A sen­sitive and subtle painter, he was best known for large images of col­our, sunlight, pretty girls and the good life. He painted Orientalist scenes and landscapes as well, but I am more interested in his pretty girls in this posting.

He had plenty of opportunity to depict the lovely young women he taught. Phill­ips Fox and his student Asquith Baker respected each other, so much that he dedicated a large painting called Art Stud­ents 1895 to her. Not only did he enjoy women’s company; women enjoy­ed his. Vi­o­let Tea­gue’s letters included comments about Fox's love for art and for teaching, and the students’ enjoyment in lear­n­ing from Fox. I wonder why he didn’t marry until 1905, when he was already 40.

In 1902 Fox decided to return to Paris where some of his most re­f­ined works were painted. Here he used another student, Ursula Foster, as the model for A Love Story 1903, one of the art­is­t­'s earliest works to incl­u­de elegantly dressed women enjoy­ing leis­ure time, a theme he ret­urned to often. The long white Ed­wardian dress, lounging diagon­ally across the can­vas, exactly capt­ur­ed the light and atmosphere of a summer's day.

Fox married the artist Ethel Carrick in London in 1905. They then lived in Paris until 1913, travelling widely in Europe and northern Africa. I must return to Ethel Carrick Fox's splendid art in a later blog article.

Fox,  The Bathing Hour

In The Bath­ing Hour 1909, Fox depicted the tender relationship bet­ween a mother and her child, long a favourite theme of Impres­sion­ists. Like Mary Cassatt (The Bath 1891; Mother and Child c1905), Phillip Fox appar­ently never tired of the very tender mother-child bond. However there was a diff­er­ence. Cassatt’s matern­al im­ag­es were not sentimental; her subj­ects were normal peo­ple in domestic settings, busy with the daily tasks. Phillip Fox’s mother, ob­s­erved directly from life, was also adoring her toddler.

The Arbour c1910 was another lan­g­uid view of a middle class fam­ily at leisure, this time painted while he was in France. Cont­em­porary critics praised this image for its fine com­position and admired Fox's ability “to create poetry, vag­ue­ness, airiness and space" in his works. Like the French Impressionists, Fox had no major social or political theme that he wanted to analyse in The Arbour. The da­p­­pled light, fine clothes and pleasant fam­ily relationships were enough. Remember Monet’s lad­ies in long white dresses called Women in the Garden 1867, sim­il­ar in feel to The Arbour.
Fox,  The Arbour

Another work to note was The Lesson c1912, a Phillips Fox image that could have come straight out of the studio of Cassatt or Morisot. Th­is time an interior scene, the long soft dresses of the women were soft­en­­ed still further by the dappled summer light, stream­ing through the window. The strongest colours inside the room were creams, whites and subtle pinks. Like The Bathing Hour, this image foc­us­sed on close family relationships.

So of all the artists painting in Melb­ourne at the turn of the cent­ury, the work of Phillips Fox came closest to the style, subject matter and tech­n­ique of French Impression­ism. His paintings were not ident­ifiably Australian; they were more concerned with women and family life than they were with gum trees, gold miners and drovers. He was a very popular teacher, focusing on light, col­our and spontaneous painting, not just on drawing. But 100 years later I found few blogs discussing his contribution to Australian art except artwall & ImHaute in English and Thé au Jasmin: oct 2008 in French).

Fox,  The Lesson


Kenza said...

Hello Hels,
I can read and write some words in english...
I'm very proud to see "Thé au Jasmin" on your beautiful blog!Thank you so much and you are always welcome!

Dr Bruce Rosen said...

Hello Hels,
Another lovely piece. I have always enjoyed Fox's work and it is nice to see a nice pithy piece putting his work in context.
Cheers, Bruce

celebpaparazzo said...

Hi Hels
Terry from ImHaute (http://imhaute.blogspot.com) thanks for your comment everytime i grace the NSW art gallery i ALWAYS visit that one paintin at least!
Thought id come by and pay my regards and wow so many references im astounded at it as with art its like a labrynth of names and styles its incomprehendable


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



HND said...

hi helen
we've got the same name, but i am french (brittany) and called hélène.
i love painting especially american impressionists. two years ago i saw an expo of john singer sargent in paris, even if i already knew him, that was a dream.
i now follow your blog, thank you for making, but could you please put ababelfish gadget for strangers like me it would be...easier!thank you very much
hélène (from casanovahnd.blogspot.com

Viola said...

Hello Hels,

Thank you so much for this very interesting article. I am a big fan of the Impressionists - I've been sneered at quite a lot for this! Now they're back in fashion so I'm having the last laugh!

I'm glad that you are making people all over the world aware of Phillips Fox. He certainly deserves the recognition.

Hels said...

Thanks Kenza and Hélène
I have added a translation widget next to the blog - hopefully the quality of the French translation will be good.

Since 90% of my art, architecture and history are European, the translations into French, German, Italian, Spanish etc are not before time.

I look forward to talking to you about art again.

Hels said...


How is it going, sir? A long time between drinks.

I am not leaving the context of Phillips Fox behind, but all these years later I might make my thinking a bit more nuanced. The new blog post will appear during the next week.