30. ETHEL CARRICK FOX
Even by today’s standards, Ethel Carrick Fox would be considered a thoroughly modern woman; independent, adventurous and determined. She was a naturally gifted artist who early on decided to fulfil her ambition and in 1887 enrolled at the Slade Art School in London. Rejecting the domestic life most of her peers had chosen, Carrick relished the freedom that the Slade afforded her. She was able to explore the galleries and museums, immersing herself in the art that she had only read about in books and, refreshingly, she was free from the constant familial pressure to marry and start a family. The Slade was one of only a few art schools that accepted female students and still enforced many prudish Victorian restrictions, it was not until 1902 that women were allowed to draw life models in the same studio as male students. Despite most of the lecturers at the Slade favouring a more traditional style of art, Impressionism was burgeoning in Europe and Carrick was drawn to the fresh, vibrant colours employed by Monet (1840-1926), Degas (1834-1917) and Renoir (1841-1918) which she was heavily influenced by and would later came to typify her oeuvre.
Following her graduation from the Slade, Carrick chose to further her studies and decided upon Cornwall as her next destination. Here she drew and attended lessons, painting en plein air, capturing ‘real life’ in swift brush-strokes and further developing her own modern style. It was in the charming fishing village of St Ives that she met Emanuel Phillips Fox, the Jewish-Australian painter, living and working in Cornwall. Fox too had been studying and exhibiting his works in Europe; he was well-established when he met Ethel Carrick, earning a reputation as a fine painter, portraitist and teacher. Like Carrick, he had also dismissed the possibility of marriage and a family in favour of studying art however the artist’s lack of regular income had prevented him from proposing marriage due to his uncertain prospects. A romance flourished between the two and they found much in common through their artistic pursuits. It was common for most female artists to forego their careers once they married however ‘Mannie’ gave his full support to Carrick and the two continued to paint and exhibit regularly in England before their relocation to Paris in 1905.
A new world opened up for Carrick in Paris; the bustling city provided the artist with new opportunities to paint its streets, gardens and marketplaces - her art quickly evolved and she began to develop her own artistic language. The couple leased a studio in Montparnasse, not far from the Luxembourg Gardens and the Palais du Luxembourg, which housed a magnificent collection of works by the Post-Impressionists Bonnard (1867-1947), Vuillard (1868-1940) and Denis (1870-1943) which left a lasting impression on the young artist.
The couple travelled widely outside of Paris – they honeymooned in Venice, later visiting Florence, Brittany, Normandy, the Côte D’Azur, Australia and in 1911, took a ship from Marseille to Algiers and travelled around North Africa. The dazzling light and contrasting rich colours of the souks and bazaars suited Carrick’s bold painting style; she was fascinated with the architecture of domes, mosques and minarets and the robed men and women strolling the streets. Few western women travelled to this area of Africa, however Carrick’s fortitude and love of painting spurred along her desire to travel and experience cultures outside of Europe. The artist described the experience as ‘hard work, though the light was lovely. Painting all day in the heat and with the natives and flies equally thick about you’.1
The present work depicts a bustling marketplace where locals gather to trade – here, Carrick has skillfully used shadow to accentuate the clarity of the Northern African light and heat. This work demonstrates the Post-Impressionistic influence on her work in the free use of colour and loose paint handling. This work can be compared to Carrick’s Arabs Bargaining, also from c1911, (National Gallery of Australia collection, Canberra) in its composition and depiction of light. In Untitled (North African Marketplace) the artist used vigorous brushstrokes and a high-keyed palette to form the robed figures and market stalls; vivid reds, blues and yellows punctuate the scene - it is this liberal use of color that would come to be the hallmarks of Carrick’s best work.
Following her husband’s death in 1915, Carrick continued to paint and exhibit both her and Phillip Fox’s paintings in Europe and Australia. She strove to bring his art to the attention of public galleries in Australia – this self-effacing attitude may have raised the profile of her husband’s work above hers however it is evident from the considerable achievements and impressive oeuvre of Ethel Carrick Fox that she also is deserving of recognition and high praise.
1. Register, Adelaide, 14 July 1925, p.10
Caroline Jones MArtAdmin