A look at two paintings by artist Ethel Carrick Fox

In 1913 a critic for the Sydney Morning Herald wrote of British-born Ethel Carrick Fox and her paintings:

The first characteristic observed on meeting [her] is a certain joyous vivacity, an air of pouncing upon the matter in hand and bearing it at once into a prominence of light and colour

Likewise, in the same year, The Age noted:

She delights in colour and light ... in the movement of holiday crowds at the seaside, and in the parks.

These enthusiastic observations – which describe the exuberance of the artist and her paintings as fluidly interchangeable – perfectly introduce two major works of art recently acquired by the Gallery.

Sur la plage (On the beach), c.1910, was painted during Carrick’s most celebrated period and exhibits all of the joy and freedom of an artist working en plein air. Recording the energy and elegance of the Belle Époque, Carrick shows women and children at leisure on the French beach of Royan, where she frequently spent her summers with her Australian husband, 
the artist Emanuel Phillips Fox. Most radically, the artist’s loose and confident brushstrokes expose the wood grain of her preferred painting surface, a custom panel of 9 x 12 inches. The grain is incorporated into the tonality and composition of the painting and contributes to the artist’s aim of portraying, in her words, a sense of ‘arrested movement’.

With the same feeling for colour and a mature hand for animating a scene through the contrast of light and shadow, the artist’s painting Deputy Commissioner’s Garden Agra, India, c.1933, was created more than two decades later.

The rare painting from Carrick’s second trip to India was a gift to Hubert John Evans, Deputy Commissioner in the Indian Civil Service and a family friend with whom Carrick had stayed. The post-impressionist scene has been painted from a low vantage point, with most of the composition taken up by flowers cast
in Monet-inspired tones of pulsating purples and blues; the subject of brilliantly hued flowers became a favourite for the artist, allowing for the exploration of high-key and pure colour.

Previously held in private collections, these two major examples of Carrick’s formative and late periods are on public display for the first time, in the Elder Wing. There, they demonstrate the ways in which Australian art has developed from both within and beyond the reach of our coastal borders.

Elle Freak is assistant curator of Australian Paintings & Sculpture at AGSA. This article first appeared in AGSA Magazine Issue 34.