ON THE BALCONY, c1912

13 EMANUEL PHILLIPS FOX (1865 – 1915)
ON THE BALCONY, c1912
oil on canvas
96.5 x 64.5 cm
signed lower right: E. Phillips Fox
$380,000 – 480,000

Provenance

Gift of the artist to Edith Boyd, Paris, c1912
Thence by descent
Robin Boyd, Melbourne,1961
Thence by descent
Patricia Boyd, Melbourne, 1971
Estate of Patricia Davies (formerly Mrs Robin Boyd), Melbourne

Exhibited

Société Internationale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, December 1912, cat. 46 (as Sur le balcon)
E. Phillips Fox, 1865–1915, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 9 November 1994 – 30 January 1995, cat. 54 (label attached verso)
Art, Love and Life: Ethel Carrick and E. Phillips Fox, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 16 April – 7 August 2011

Literature

Zubans, R., E. Phillips Fox 1865–1915, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1994, cat. 54, p. 68 (illus.)
Zubans, R., E. Phillips Fox, His Life and Art, Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 1995, cat. 405, p. 150, pl. C66 (illus.)
Eagle, M., The Oil Paintings of E. Phillips Fox in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1997, p. 64
Goddard, A., Art, Love and Life: Ethel Carrick and E. Phillips Fox, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 2011, pp. 23, 158 (illus. p. 96)

Essay



The entrancing elegance and savoir-faire of France’s la belle époque and England’s Edwardian age, though long gone, can still be enjoyed today in the portraits and subject paintings their masters passed down to us. The works of James McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargeant, Giovanni Boldini, Philip Wilson Steer and others proudly strut the world stage. But we do not need to trespass into foreign places for such pleasures, as Australian masters of the time have left us some spellbinding works. George Lambert’s stunning Miss Thea Proctor (Art Gallery of New South Wales) was painted in London in 1903. Bertram Mackennal’s portraits embraced Sarah Bernhardt c1892–93 (Art Gallery of New South Wales) in bronze, Melba 1899 (National Gallery of Victoria) in marble, and later a number of British Royals. The expatriate Rupert Bunny was making a name for himself both in London and Paris. His portraits of the first years of the new century – of Dame Nellie Melba, Ada Crossley, Percy Grainger, Edward George Henry 8th Earl of Sandwich, Madame Sadayakko and others – read like a ‘who’s who’ of the time. Many of his subject pictures included his beautiful wife Jeanne, who was his favourite model. Bunny’s group portrait of his sister and nieces, Mrs Herbert Jones and Her Daughters c1903 (private collection, Sydney), is a gifted essay in the manner of Sargeant, who was very popular at that time.

Following Emanuel Phillips Fox’s London marriage in 1905 to Ethel Carrick, at which Bunny was present, they moved to Paris. The paintings that flowed from his brush over the following years are among his finest. They lived close to Bunny and his wife, becoming closer in friendship as beneficial influences found their way into each other’s art. Portraiture was immensely popular. Highlighted at the Royal Academy and Paris Salons, aesthetic appeal was held to be of equal importance to likeness, in the catalogues the names of the sitters often being not listed or as adjuncts. Many years before, Whistler had referred to them as ‘arrangements’, the most memorable being Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother (Musée d’Orsay, Paris). Years later, although the figure in the painting may have been of great likeness, it was often favoured with the title of a subject picture. This is seen in Fox’s Paris paintings, Ruth Zubans in her monograph on the artist noting that ‘the borderline between portrait and subject painting was often blurred.’1 The model for Nasturtiums and On the Balcony was Edith Anderson. The verisimilitude is such that they could fairly be described as portraits of the young Australian artist. However, when Fox exhibited the latter painting at the Société Internationale des Peintures et des Sculptures in December 1912, he titled it ‘Sur le balcon’, indicating his intention. Moreover, he painted an acknowledged formal portrait of Edith after her marriage, Mrs Penleigh Boyd, (private collection), dressed in her going away costume of ‘dark blue velvet, with a picture hat’.2 The exquisitely beautiful redheaded Edith Susan Gerard Anderson (1878–1961) was Fox’s favourite model. The Brisbane born artist studied for a time under Fox, who, in Paris, introduced Edith to her future husband, Penleigh Boyd. Boyd’s Paris studio adjoined that of Fox. The Foxes’ friendship with Anderson and Boyd was very close. Not only did they 35 give a pre-wedding party for them, but also at their wedding the following day Fox gave Edith away. His portrait, Mrs Penleigh Boyd was a wedding present, suitably marking her entry into the emerging Boyd dynasty of Australian artists (their son, Robin Boyd, was to become one of Australia’s most renowned architects and their nephew, Arthur Boyd, one of Australia’s most renowned painters). As they were married in October 1912, it is likely that Nasturtiums and On the Balcony were painted in or by early September. Like Bunny at this time, and the leading French and American Impressionists before them, Fox enjoyed painting scenes of lovely ladies in sheltered gardens, excelling in the dappled sunlight and gentle play of light and shade. Zubans placed those paintings inspired by Anderson, including our two and the equally splendid The Green Parasol 1912 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra), as ‘among the most exquisite in his oeuvre’.3 Of The Green Parasol , Zubans referred to Edith seated, ‘surrounded by rich flowerbeds of red, blue and pink...’, adding that ‘Fox began this work in June, when he was also helping Edith to plan her garden.’ For Zubans, Nasturtiums was ‘The most enchanting of these works...’.4 While Fox was known to idealize when painting the female figure – a hand from one model, a head from another, and so on – with Anderson it would seem he found and painted her as is. The French summer of 1912, according to Bunny, was very cold and wet. This would explain, as Mary Eagle observed, ‘the subdued, grey outdoor light of Nasturtiums; [and] the warm clothes Edith wore when she posed for other paintings such as On the balcony... of which the sunlit, leafy background was added later...’5 Fox’s colours range through the bright, sunlit arm of the wicker chair to those in the shade, muted by reflected light. The contrast of reds on greens gives it a special attraction. Zubans noted perceptively, ‘The work is fresh and parts of the unpainted canvas show through, enhancing the crispness of the colours.’6 In On the Balcony, Edith is again attired in a pale mauve costume, now edged with black. In both paintings she shares the large black hat, so stylishly redolent of the age, and gloves. Both offer splendid images of their time, full of poise and grace, and that engaging languor. They likewise share the appealing modesty of downward look and hooded eyes, demurely avoiding the viewer’s gaze, reserved and irresistible. The perfect setting is the flowered and arboured garden of the Foxes’ most pleasant two-storey Paris apartment at 65 Boulevard Argo, the garden itself being a joint creation. These two splendid paintings on offer, Nasturtiums and On the Balcony, present entrancing essays in beauty, elegance and savoir-faire, revealing all the poise, grace, and style of an age when Paris was the unrivalled centre of European taste and sophistication.

1. Zubans, 1995, op. cit., p. 121
2. British Australasian, London, 24 October 1912, p. 21, quoted in Zubans, op. cit., p. 151
3. Zubans, op. cit., p. 150
4. ibid.
5. Eagle, M., The Oil Paintings of E. Phillips Fox in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1997, p. 64
6. Zubans, op. cit., p. 150

DAVID THOMAS