E. Phillips Fox
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Fox was born in Fitzroy, in Melbourne, Victoria. He studied art at the National Gallery School in Melbourne from 1878 until 1886 under G. F. Folingsby, his fellow students included John Longstaff, Frederick McCubbin, David Davies and Rupert Bunny.
In 1886 he travelled to Paris and enrolled at the Académie Julian, where he gained first prize in his year for design and Ecole des Beaux Arts (1887-1890), where his masters included Adolphe William Bouguereau and Jean-Leon Gerome, both among the most famous artists of the time. While at Beaux Arts he was awarded a first prize for painting. He was greatly influenced by the fashionable school of en plein air Impressionism. He exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1890, and returned to Melbourne in 1891.
In October 1892, Fox opened the Melbourne Art School with Tudor St George Tucker, where he taught European ideas and techniques. He had a considerable influence as a teacher on Australian art during this period. In his brief career with the Heidelberg School Fox was noted for his figure compositions and subdued landscapes, often painted as nocturnes, utilising a low-key palette in which the colours, although limited in range, were related to each other "with the utmost delicacy and inventiveness," to quote Australian art scholar James Gleeson. The emphasis on landscapes may have been at least partly a response to market demand - landscapes found more ready acceptance, and "The Art Students", a figurative genre painting now recognised as one of his best, The Art Students first exhibited at the Victorian Art Society in 1895, remained unsold until 1943.
In 1901 he was given a commission under the Gilbee bequest to paint an historical picture of "The Landing of Captain Cook" for the Melbourne gallery. One of the conditions of the bequest was that the picture must be painted overseas and Fox accordingly left for London.
He explained his decision to base himself in the European art world in a 1903 letter to Frederick McCubbin: "I am quite certain that the only way is to exhibit alongside the best of the work here, and that one man shows, and colonial or Australian exhibitions in London are of very little good." Both the Royal Academy and the Salon were bastions of establishment art, remote from the modernism of Braque, Picasso and the School of Paris, and Fox's biographer, art historian Ruth Zubans, describes the Salon as celebrating elegance and femininity "...filtered through Impressionist experience and academic training". Fox enjoyed considerable success in Paris and London, becoming in 1894 the first Australian to be awarded a third-class gold medal at the Salon for "Portrait of My Cousin" (now in the National Gallery of Victoria), and being elected a Societaire in 1910.
In 1905 he married Ethel Carrick, an artist of ability. They settled in Paris and in 1908 Fox was elected an associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts. He returned to Melbourne on a visit in that year and held a successful one man show at the Guildhall gallery. Two years later he became a full member of the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts, the first Australian artist to attain that honour. He was also exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy. In 1912 he was elected a member of the International Society of Painters and in the same year spent some time painting in Spain and Algeria.
Return to Australia
In 1913 he returned to Australia, marking the occasion with an exhibition of some seventy works. The show was reported with enthusiasm in the local press, the Melbourne Argus writing: "With light and atmosphere always the ruling motive, there is revealed in his themes something of the infinite beauty discoverable in everyday things...". The writer might have had in mind this charming and typical work titled The Arbour.
A final aspect of Fox's oeuvre worth noting is his official commissions. The Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, the most important of these works, holds more than a hint of his teacher Gérôme; and every Australian might be surprised to find that Fox was the author of Portrait of Captain Cook, an icon probably so ubiquitous as to have sunk unnoticed but ever-present into the national psyche.
He died on 8 October 1915. Mrs Fox survived him, but there were no children.