Menzies Art Brands


An excellent example of shadow treatment is shown in the canvas En Deshabille.  A lovely young girl in lilac underwear sits at a window in the shade of a closed shutter, the fair head thrown back in the armchair.

Sydney Mail, 5 November 19131

The delight of deshabille is verified in dainty fashion in No. 16, where in a subdued light, with self-toned surroundings, a girl of perfect charms, in most delicate pale heliotrope undermost garment, with black shapely stockinged leg just seen, is resting carelessly and alluringly. It is a living picture, throbbing with life, very daring, exquisite in colour and in spirit.

            The Newsletter, 8 November 19132

En Dshabill c1911 is a delightful example of the subject paintings of Emanuel Phillips Fox, created in Paris at the height of the Belle poque. Initially shown at the Paris Salon,3 the painting was unveiled to the Australian public at two major exhibitions in 1913 in Melbourne at the Athenaeum Hall in June, and in Sydney at the Royal Art Society of New South Wales in October, where it was received with rapturous acclaim. Having been out of the public eye for 45 years, En Dshabill represents an exciting rediscovery that promises further insight into Foxs mature work; in particular, his depiction of women.

The present work shows the interior of Foxs home at 65 Boulevard Arago in Montparnasse. Fox had moved there with his new wife, Ethel Carrick, after their wedding in London in May 1905. Located in the heart of Pariss Left Bank, the Foxes congenial garden apartment formed part of a larger complex of studios built in 1880, home to a thriving community of largely expatriate and Anglophone artists.4 This setting would prove highly conducive to Foxs artistic development, affording him the opportunity to undertake further study at the prestigious Acadmie Julian and to regularly exhibit his work at the Salon.  During this time, Fox was exposed to a variety of artistic influences, ranging from the academicism of William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) and Jean-Lon Grme (1824-1904), to the intimiste imagery of Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) and douard Vuillard (1868-1940).5 Accordingly, Fox wrote that his works of this period were the best I have painted.6 

En Dshabill epitomises the carefree elegance of pre-war Paris. A woman sits languidly in an armchair, her head thrown back into soft shadow. She wears only a pair of black stockings, and a petticoat of lilac silk and lace. Filtered light seeps through the closed shutters beyond, which are gently shrouded in drapery. The scene feels spontaneous and intimate; the pose unstudied. Foxs soft broken brushwork and delicate palette of tertiary colours suggest the influence of Vuillard, whose interiors often depict a solitary female figure amid a richly patterned, tonal scheme.7 As with many of Vuillards works from the 1890s onwards, Phillips Fox has used the rectilinear form of a window frame to contain the sinuous curve of the womans figure. The painting is composed in a seemingly arbitrary, almost photographic manner, severing the womans foreleg and the base of the chair.

It is likely that the sitter of En Dshabill is Edith Anderson (1880-1961), Foxs most celebrated model of the period. Anderson was a fellow artist and resident of 65 Boulevard Arago, and in October 1912 she married Foxs close friend, Penleigh Boyd (1890-1923).8  Distinguished by her auburn hair and clear, pale complexion, Edith was the subject of many of Foxs most important Parisian paintings, including Nasturtiums c1912 (Art Gallery of New South Wales collection, Sydney) and The Arbour 1910 (National Gallery of Victoria collection, Melbourne).  For Fox, Anderson represented an ideal of womanhood the perfect embodiment of feminine grace and charm. His Parisian canvases are replete with imagery of women at leisure: reading in the garden, attending to their toilette, or reposing in the nude.9 

Despite the implicit conservatism of these images, Fox was not oblivious to the sexual politics of the time; in particular, the campaign to allow women the right to vote. One of Foxs more unusual works is the 1911 painting A Suffragette thought to portray his cousin Marion Phillips, a campaigner for womens rights and the first Australian woman to become a member of the British House of Commons.10 Perhaps then, En Dshabill is intended to provide a taste of female empowerment. The sitter is seen in a private moment, relaxed and unselfconscious. Her lingerie the height of fashion at the time is for her pleasure alone.11 She has no husband or children to demand her attention, and appears unperturbed by anothers gaze.


1. Motherhood and Le Livre de Paix, Sydney Mail, Sydney, 5 November 1913, p.33
2. Rare Pictures. E. Phillips Fox, The Newsletter, Sydney, 8 November 1913, p.4
3. As recorded in the catalogue to accompany the 1913 Athenaeum Hall exhibition, and reviews of the same.
4. Downey, G., Cosmopolitans and Expatriates, in Goddard, A., Art, Love & Life: Ethel Carrick & E. Phillips Fox, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2011, p.59

5. Zubans, R., E. Phillips Fox: His Life and Art, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 1995, p.123
6. Ibid., p.57
7. For an example, see Mme Vuillard Sewing by the Window, Rue Truffaut, oil on cardboard laid down on panel, 49.5 x 52.7 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art collection, New York
8. Zubans, R., E. Phillips Fox: His Life and Art, op. cit., p.150
9. Ibid., p.125
10. Goddard, A., An Artistic Marriage, in Art, Love & Life: Ethel Carrick & E. Phillips Fox, op. cit., pp.22-23
11. Peers, J., Tall, Graceful Women Sweep By: Fashion and Dress in the Work of the Foxes, in Art, Love & Life: Ethel Carrick & E. Phillips Fox, op. cit., p.98

Catherine Baxendale

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