Emanuel Phillips Fox - Blanche et noire

Emanuel Phillips Fox

Blanche et noire

Oil on canvas: 39.5(h) x 32(w) in /

100.3(h) x 81.3(w) cm

Signed and dated lower left: E. Phillips Fox / 1912

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BM 174



1865 – Fitzroy, Melbourne – 1915


Blanche et noire


Signed and dated lower left: E. PHILLIPS FOX / 1912;

titled on a label on the reverse

Oil on canvas: 39 ½ x 32 in / 100.3 x 81.3 cm

Frame size: 46 ½ x 39 ¼ in / 118.1 x 99.7 cm



Monsieur Albert Sonneville (1873-1951), Roubaix, France;

by descent



Emanuel Phillips Fox was among the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan of Australian painters, taking elements from Impressionism, Whistler’s Symbolism and Bonnard’s intimisme to forge his own subtle, elegant style. He studied in Paris and St Ives in the late 1880s and early 1890s, returning to Melbourne before spending from 1905 to 1913 again based in Paris, where Blanche et noire was painted.


The sitter in Blanche et noire is Edith Susan Gerard Anderson (1880-1961), a favourite model of Fox. The daughter of John Anderson, Under Secretary for Education in Queensland, she studied at the Slade School of Art in London, returning to Australia in 1909. In 1912, the year that this painting was made, she stayed with Fox and his artist wife Ethel (née Carrick) in Paris, taking painting lessons from Fox. He introduced Edith to her future husband, the Australian landscape painter Theodore Penleigh Boyd (1890-1923) and gave her away when the couple married in October.


Blanche et noire is typical of Fox’s second Paris sojourn in lying on ‘the borderline between the subject picture and the portrait’[1]. It is both a characterful and intimate portrait of a very attractive woman, and an evocation of mood. The title recalls those chosen by Whistler, for example his portrait of his mother, Arrangement in grey and black, 1871 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), which refers to tones and effects rather than stressing the name of the sitter. The palette – like the Velásquez paintings that Fox had studied in Spain in 1891 – is dominated by black and white and a restricted number of cool colours: green shutters, greenish-grey walls, which offset Edith’s rich auburn hair and creamy skin. Fox plays with great subtlety on filtered sources of light and fabrics which are alternatively opaque and translucent, modifying the quality of his dancing brushwork to evoke the summer light beyond the shutters, Edith’s muslin and satin patterned dress, her shiny gold bangle and dramatic black hat. The white dress and décor give her a youthful purity, but there is also confidence and a hint of humour in her glance.


Fox made several paintings of Edith Anderson around 1912 which share with Blanche et noire clear, fresh but rather cool colours, oblique light and a sense of her warm yet serene personality. They include Nasturtiums, c.1912 (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney)[2] and On the balcony,



1912 (private collection, Melbourne)[3] in which Edith wears the same black ‘picture hat’ as in Blanche et noire. In The green parasol, 1912 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)[4], Edith sits in Fox’s flower-filled Paris garden, the parasol casting complex shadows on her face and dress, an inky-black dog the dramatic focus of the centre of the painting. These paintings, like Blanche et noire, share Fox’s delight in the decorative qualities of composition and paint and also his interest in an ideal of graceful womanhood in these years just before the First World War. He painted a number of works on the theme of motherhood and tranquil family gatherings, reflecting his joy in his own close-knit family, though he and his wife Ethel were sadly childless. Edith Anderson appears in The arbour, 1910 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest)[5], again painted in Fox’s Paris garden, as a lady in white listening to a little girl reading.


With her marriage to Penleigh Boyd, Edith joined a prominent Australian artistic dynasty. Penleigh’s father, Arthur Merric Boyd (1862-1940), was a painter friend of Phillips Fox and his mother Emma was a landscapist. Penleigh’s brother, William Merric (1888-1959), was a potter. After returning to Melbourne with Penleigh in 1913, Edith continued to draw and paint. In later years she wrote several plays for the theatre and radio, in some of which she acted. Her son Robin Boyd (1819-1971) became a distinguished architect and she was the aunt of the famous Modernist painter Arthur Boyd (1920-1999).


Blanche et noire remained in France for a century. It was acquired by Monsieur Albert Sonneville (1873-1951), a wool merchant of Roubaix, a textile centre in northern France, and has descended in his family.



Fig. 1 Emanuel Phillips Fox, Nasturtiums, c.1912.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. A sunny day in Paris and Edith Anderson sits reading a letter, the bright light filtering through the green wooden blinds in the artist’s studio; it’s a fine example of ‘Fox’s art of sunlight and fashion’.1 Fox’s portraits may have been ‘idealized….. rendered taller, more elegant, dressed in attires of Fox’s own choosing, their features more regular, the colour of their hair often altered to Fox’s favourite auburn’,2 but compared to many contemporary paintings of women, Anderson is presented simply to our gaze, just as natural and unaffected as she is modestly elegant. Blanche et Noire is just that – white for the dress and the muslin curtains, and for

the lace veil, black for her hat and the narrow belt glimpsed at her waist, and for the chair on which she sits. The charming and relaxed summer dress of delicately figured white muslin with transparent sleeves (and without the very high neck which would be uncomfortable in hot weather) is typical of informal fashion in the years just before the First World War, and painted with aplomb and expertise by the artist. Vast hats were fashionable from c.1907, but Fox even

makes the huge black silk hat (which could so easily be an absurdity – ‘they were called cart-wheel hats, and really they were quite as large as a cartwheel’ recalled Kitty Shannon)3

– look appealing. The veil (possibly embroidered net known as Limerick lace) has been pushed up over the brim, serving to lighten the hat’s velvet blackness. We are thus enabled to see Anderson’s attractive face which is free of cosmetics except for the lightest touch of powder.


Aileen Ribeiro


Fig. 2 Summer afternoon dress of fine white cotton muslin with whitework embroidery, c.1905–8. Chertsey Museum.














1865 – Fitzroy, Melbourne – 1915


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’[6]. 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.  

[1] Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, E Phillips Fox 1865-1915, 1994, exh. cat. by Ruth Zubans, p.8.

[2] Zubans, op. cit., p.66, no.52, illus. in colour.

[3] Ibid., p.68, no.54, illus. in colour.

[4] Ibid., p.67, no.53, illus. in colour.

[5] Ibid., pp.56-7, no.41, illus. in colour.

[6] Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 8, MUP, 1981. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fox-emanuel-phillips-62228.

ImpressionistEmanuel Phillips Fox