Ethel Carrick (1872–1952) was born near London and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. She became fascinated by the work of Monet and Pissarro, and produced impressionist views which were shown at London’s Royal Academy. Born in Melbourne, Emanuel Phillips Fox (1865–1915) studied art at the National Gallery School in Melbourne. He moved to Paris in 1887 to learn at the Academie Julian and the Fine Arts School with the masters, and was lucky enough to study under the incomparable French artist Gerome.
Ethel Carrick Fox, French Flower Market, 1909, private collection
So how did they meet? Carrick went to the artists’ colony in St Ives in Cornwall where she met Phillips Fox in 1901. Carrick was fortunate in her choice of husbands since Phillips Fox was already sensitive to women and family life. And once they married in 1905, they settled in Paris where he produced gentle, romantic domestic scenes of women and domestic scenes. And he supported her work as well.
They were not just contemporaries who happened to work in art together. As a married couple, they travelled, ate, painted and slept together, in the centre of Paris until 1913 and then through Europe, North Africa and lastly Australia. The more colourful and exotic the material, the happier they were.
Carrick and Fox’s works celebrated a way of life that was leisured and elegant. They loved the life themselves and Edwardian audiences (loosely 1895-1915) also loved painted beach scenes, picnics and family meals al fresco. The gallery believes that Phillips Fox’s Al Fresco 1905 and Carrick Fox’s Manly Beach 1913, in particular, show how inviting French and Australian beach culture was.
In one sense, the leisured life was not particularly nationalist or specifically Australian in taste. That should not surprise us. Phillips Fox left Australia in 1887, before the inspiration of the Box Hill and Heidelberg artists’ camps had developed. And he was outside Australia during all the nationalist excitement leading up to Federation. If we had to compare Phillip Fox to anyone, we could best compare the subject matter with that of Mary Cassatt, Auguste Renoir and Berthe Morisot. His long white Edwardian dresses exactly captured the light and atmosphere of a summer's day. 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 surface.
E Phillips Fox, Loves me, loves me not c1909, Art Gallery of Western Australia
As well as creating their own beautiful works, the couple certainly participated actively in the art scene in Australia. Fox helped establish the Melbourne School of Art in 1893, and continued to teach and support Australian artists throughout his own career. When Phillips Fox passed away in 1915 at a young age, his wife continued to carry on his legacy, promoting her late husband’s work. Unfortunately that meant that his works became very well known in Australia; her works slipped into relative obscurity.
Read the essays in Art, Love and Life: Ethel Carrick and E Phillips Fox, the beautifully illustrated 224 page colour catalogue that accompanied the exhibition. The essays analyse some 100 works assembled from galleries and private collections across Australia. There is no better way to explore the life and times of the Phillips Fox family.