Regarded one of Australia’s most gifted colourists and figure painters, Emanuel Phillips Fox became a greatly celebrated member of the art world for the way he captured the effects of sunlight in his works and combined Impressionist-oriented vision with academic training.
Born in Fitzroy, Melbourne in 1865, Fox began his art education at the age of 15 when he took up drawing classes under the instruction of John Carter. He then went on to study under O.R Campbell and G.F Folingsby at the Melbourne National Gallery School between 1878 and 1886 where he became acquainted with fellow budding artists, Rupert Bunny, Frederick McCubbin and Tudor St George Tucker. It was during his time at art school that Fox had his first taste of success after winning awards for his landscape paintings at the gallery students’ exhibitions in 1884 and 1886.
Fox resumed his studies abroad, travelling to Paris in 1887 to study at the Academie Julien and Gerome’s atelier at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. With his masters including Adolphe William Bouquereau and Jean-Leon Gerome, Fox continued with his art studies in Europe until 1890, becoming greatly influenced by the school of plein air Impressionism and gaining such awards as first prize in his year for both design and painting.
After completion of his studies, Fox held his first exhibition in 1890 at the Salon, Paris before settling at St Ives in Cornwall, one of England’s key centres for plein air painting. In 1891, he travelled to Madrid where he spent the year copying Velasquez’ works and returned to Melbourne in 1892 where he soon established the Melbourne Art School with Tudor St. George Tucker. At this particular institution, students were introduced to French academic practices and during the summer outdoor school, they were taken to Charterisville, near Eaglemont where they learnt how to paint plein air while incorporating some aspects of Impressionist practice. During this period, Fox proved to have had a considerable influence as a teacher of Australian art.
As the art school became Melbourne’s most important art institution of the 1890s, Fox quickly came to be recognised as a key player in the Australian art world. He joined the Victorian Artist’s society, and becoming a vocal council-member and exhibitor between 1893 and 1900. Fox launched one-man shows in 1892 and 1900-01, greatly contributing to major displays in Sydney, Adelaide and Bendigo and was also represented in international collections such as the Australian Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in London in 1898.
In 1901, Fox was commissioned by the trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria to paint a large historical picture of Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay. His work was later titled, The Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770. According to the terms of the Gilbee bequest, Fox was required to travel abroad and in 1902, he went to London to complete the painting, for which he received £500. During his time abroad, Fox regularly exhibited his work at the Royal Academy in 1903 and married a Slade School student, Ethel Carrick before touring Italy and Spain and finally settling in Paris in 1908, where he became a member of the Societe Nationale des Beaux Arts in 1910. He was the first Australian artist to attain the honour. In 1912 Fox was elected a member of the International Society of Painters and in the same year, travelled extensively through Spain and Algeria producing works of art.
Fox and his wife stayed in Paris until 1913 before permanently moving back to Australia. His return was marked with an exhibition of seventy of Fox’s works. As this was well-received, it prompted several more exhibitions in Melbourne, Sydney Adelaide and numerous offers of portrait commissions, including one of the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Andrew Fisher.
The outbreak of the First World War found Fox in Tahiti, a place to which he had been attracted to the work of Gauguin, and in 1915, Fox returned to Melbourne where he organised an art union to raise funds for the purchase of a Red Cross lorry for France . In the same year, the artist died of cancer in a Fitzroy hospital, and was buried in Brighton cemetary.
Fox’s death proved to have left a significant impact on the Australian art world. In his brief career as a member of the renowned Heidelberg School, he became remembered for his figure compositions and subdued landscapes, often painted as nocturnes and showing a low-key palette depicting an illustrative style. His use of colour led many young artists to further experiment with their palettes.
However, although Fox’s portraits and landscapes made his famous, his repertoire extended to elegant female figures, scenes of family luncheons in gardens, boating parties on the Seine, Arab scenes and rural subjects.
Today the work of E.Phillips Fox is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, all State and various regional galleries, and the Louvre, Paris.