Ethel Carrick first visited Australia in 1908, three years after her marriage to fellow painter Emanuel Phillips Fox. English-born and trained, Carrick delighted in the light and colour of open air subjects – whether in Cornwall, France, North Africa or Australia. She painted many oil sketches that capture the casual attitudes of passers-by in public spaces. She used short brushstrokes to animate the scene of transient natural effects and human movement.
In Sydney Harbour, Carrick placed four horizontal bands across the picture: shore, sea, city, sky. In the foreground are two groups of women and children waiting for the ferry, probably from McMahon’s Point or Milson’s Point. She used dark and white dresses (and just one boldly striped gown) to balance the left and the right. In the centre of the composition she placed a band of sea, populated with ferries, yachts and ships and, above that, a view of the city beneath a smudged swathe of sky.
Carrick used a high-key palette, that is, colours mixed with white rather than darker hues. As the Impressionists had demonstrated, tonal contrast and detail diminish with distance. The artist accentuated her free brushwork, especially on the white dresses, hats, shirt and parasol, by the use of impasto (thick layers of paint in which brush marks are visible).
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002