English born Ethel Carrick (1872 –1952) and Australian Emmanuel Phillips Fox (1865–1915) had only been married ten years when he died of lung cancer at age 50. During their decade of marriage both had established themselves in the art world of Paris, London and Australia. Her work was exhibited in significant venues at a time when few female painters could make such a claim. Even so, the career of her more famous husband eclipsed that of Ethel Carrick Fox. In part, it was her own choice as she dedicated much of her time to promoting his work before and after his death. She insisted that her work was “nothing in comparison to his.”
While both embraced Impressionism, he remained more dedicated to academic realism. She was more willing to embrace the emerging radical attitudes of the Post-Impressionists with wild splashes of color in broad strokes. His paintings were shown at the New Salon in Paris, while hers appeared at the more progressive Autumn Salon.
Ethel Carrick was trained in London’s famous Slade School. She met Emanuel Phillips Fox at the plein-air painting colony in St Ives, Cornwall around 1901. They married in 1905 and settled in Paris. Carrick-Fox flourished there with her passion for the Jardin du Luxembourg and the open-air markets. She found inspiration in their bright colors, lively human scenes and richly dappled light. Meanwhile, her husband worked meticulously with models in his studio.
During their years of travel primarily to Venice, North Africa and Normandy, she coaxed her husband out of the studio and into the open air where they frequently painted the same subject matter. His work from this time is more like hers in its spontaneity and vigor.
In recent years, her reputation has been on the rise. According to Delia Gaze in Dictionary of Women Artists A – Z, many critics today consider the work of Ethel Carrick to be more adventurous and possibly more significant than that of her husband.
In her book Ethel Carrick Fox: Travels and Triumphs of a Post Impressionist, historian Susanna de Vries says that Carrick Fox’s work was largely overlooked for decades. Then in 1996, her painting of a French Flower Market sold at an auction for $105,500 AUD. That was the highest price to date to be paid for a painting by an Australian woman. According to Sotheby’s an Ethel Carrick Fox sold for $1,008,000 AUD.
Frequently she did not sign or date her paintings. To add to the confusion, she also used the same titles for pieces painted in the same location but years apart. She was known to sign many different names to the paintings she did sign. Included in her many signatures were: “Carrick”, “Ethel Carrick”, “E. Carrick”, “E. Carrick Fox” and “E. Phillips Fox”. (Ethel Carrick Fox: The Cheat or the Cheated? In Wallflowers and Witches: Women and Culture in Australia, 1910-1945 by Elin Howe.
Susanna De Vries raised quite a ruckus when she said that some unscrupulous dealers had attributed Carrick Fox’s unsigned works to her more famous husband. She also said some dealers accused Ethel Carrick Fox of forging her husband’s name to her paintings to increase their value.
She was outspoken, committed and dedicated. She worked tirelessly for the Red Cross in Sydney. In Paris she worked to support prisoners of war and refugees.
She was a stellar example of the late “New Woman” who evolved in the later Victorian Era. She was bold, independent and chose work to the roles of the traditional wife and motherhood. Her in-laws could not forgive her for remaining childless. She remained the outsider. She traveled extensively for most of her life, staying in places provided by the Theosophical Community of which she was an active member.
In her spare time, she managed to achieve the following:
1903– exhibited her work in London
1906 on– exhibited at the Paris d’Automne, London Royal Academy of Arts, the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts,
1908 on – exhibited in several progressive galleries in Australia
1908 – member of the Union Internationale des Beaux-Arts et des Lettres
1911 – became sociétaire of the Salon d’Automne, and served as a jury member from 1912 to 1925 (highly unusual for a woman)
-associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts
1913 – vice-president of the International Union of Women Painters
1928 – diploma of honor at the International Exhibition of Bordeaux
prior to WWII- vice president of International Union of Women Artists
1940s-50s – exhibited with Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors
April 2014: Artnet released a list of the highest grossing living American artists. It featured only one woman, Cady Noland.
2008 and 2012: the 100 highest-priced paintings did not include a single female artist.
While new records for the largest sums for works at auction are reset periodically, female artists almost never break these records.
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