Emmanuel Phillips Fox, in the words of his biographer Ruth Zubans, was ‘among Australia’s most gifted colourists and figure painters’, combining ‘Impressionist-oriented vision with an academic training’. He produced portraits, history and subject paintings and atmospheric, plein air landscapes. Born on in Melbourne on 12th March 1865, he was the seventh child of Alexander Fox, a Jewish photographer from London, and his wife Rosette, née Phillips. He trained at the National Gallery schools from 1878-86 with OR Campbell and GF Folingsby, together with Rupert Bunny, McCubbin and Tudor St George Tucker.
In 1887 Fox went to Paris, studying at the Académie Julian, with Gérôme at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and with the American Thomas Alexander Harrison. He spent summers painting en plein air at Etaples, Le Pouldu in Brittany and Giverny. In 1890 he went to St Ives in Cornwall, where he encountered the plein-air figure painters of the nearby Newlyn School. The following year Fox studied Velásquez in Madrid, adopting his painterly, dramatic manner for some of his portraits.
Returning to Melbourne in October 1892, Fox joined the Victorian Artists’ Society and was represented in the Australian Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in London in 1898. He chiefly made a living from portrait painting. In 1893 Fox and Tucker founded the Melbourne School of Art, based on French academic practice. Fox taught plein air painting, adopting aspects of Impressionism, at the school’s summer school at Charterisville, near Eaglemont.
In 1900 the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne commissioned Fox to paint The landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay (National Gallery), which under the terms of the Gillbee Bequest, had to be executed abroad. He travelled to Paris in 1901, then to St Ives and London. In St Ives Fox met Ethel Carrick (1872-1952), a Slade student painting in the Cornish landscape; they married in London in 1905 and lived in Paris until 1913, travelling widely in Europe and North Africa. He exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, in 1895 and from 1903 to 1912. Fox won a gold medal at the Paris Salon in 1906 with his Portrait of my cousin, 1893-4 (National Gallery of Victoria). He became a member of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, an Associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1907 and its Secretary in 1910.
Fox and his wife returned to Australia in 1908 and 1913, exhibiting in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. They came back to Australia from a trip to Tahiti when the First World War began and organized an Art Union to raise funds for the Red Cross. Fox’s health had been declining for some months and his flourishing career was sadly cut short when he died in Melbourne on 8th October 1915.
The work of Emanuel Phillips Fox is represented in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Ballarat Fine Art Gallery; Queensland Art Gallery; the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide and the Louvre, Paris.