E. Phillips FOX, Elsie, daughter of H.W. Brooks, Esquire Enlarge 1 /1

E. Phillips FOX

Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia 1865 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1915

  • Europe, England 1887-92
  • England, Europe 1901-1913

Elsie, daughter of H.W. Brooks, Esquire [Elsie, daughter of H.W. Brooks, Esquire] 1904 Place made: London, Greater London, England
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Primary Insc: signed and dated lower right in brown oil, 'E. Phillips Fox / March 1904'.
Dimensions: 136.5 h x 71.3 w cm framed (overall) 1554 h x 895 w x 60 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1963
Accession No: NGA 63.1

Elsie, daughter of H.W. Brooks, Esquire was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1904, and is characteristic of E. Phillips Fox’s society portraiture at the time. For many artists, commissioned portraiture became an essential part of maintaining a living and supporting a more experimental practice.

This portrait was commissioned by successful Melbourne industrialist Henry Wilkinson Brooks while living with his family in London. In this full-length composition, Elsie is clothed in a quaint dress within a seemingly natural setting, in keeping with renewed interest in ‘grand manner’ eighteenth-century portraiture. Particularly popular among the nouveau riche, such portraits were thought to suggest a cultured, wealthy lineage.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2013
From: Miriam kelly, Capital & Country: The Federation Years 1900 – 1913, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2013

Elsie Brooks sits passively, her hands lightly resting in her lap. At nine years of age, modelling in Fox’s studio in 1904, she is a child of the Edwardian age. This was the time when childhood was becoming recognised as a separate state of being; a new social concept in the late nineteenth century and Edwardian eras.[1]

Elsie was the daughter of Harry Wilkinson Brooks, an industrialist from Melbourne living with his family in London. Brooks was a successful businessman who commissioned this portrait of his daughter. In the painting, Elsie is a symbol of her family’s stature, depicting new industrialist wealth. However, in the simplicity of the sitter’s environment and less ornate nature of her dress and accessories, Fox shifts this reference. Elsie is still an Australian child who affects fewer of the Edwardian characteristics than does her contemporary Nellie Patterson, as captured by Hugh Ramsay in his portrait, Miss Nellie Patterson 1903.[2]

The figure of Elsie is firmly structured and modelled, combining freshness and childlike innocence within a semi-formalised setting.[3] Framed by a dark background, Elsie sits modestly on a low bench, her expression demure. The tenderness of her form, however, belies her age. Her rosy cheeks, soft skin and chubby arms and hands show her to be younger than her years. Fox uses a warm colour palette and rounded brush to highlight her fair skin and soft shadow lines. Nevertheless, Elsie’s gentle face and small hands are secondary. The focus of the painting is the light emanating from the folds and frills in her dress; its dainty floral pattern, golden sash and fine bonnet with translucent ribbon in contrast to the rich ‘leafy’ patterns in the background.

In 1901, with the support of the Gilbee Bequest for which he was commissioned to paint Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay 1770 1902 (NGV), Fox moved to London. From then until 1905, he was a central figure within a substantial London-based community of Australian artists. It was through this community and his exposure to works by European contemporaries that Fox became a keen follower of French Impressionism. He married fellow artist Ethel Carrick in 1905 and relocated to Paris, where they lived until their return to Melbourne in 1913. Fox continued to exhibit in Australia until his death in 1915.

Georgia Connolly

[1] M Eagle, The oil paintings of E. Phillips Fox in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1997, p 33.

[2] M Eagle, as above, p 35.

[3] R Zubans, E. Phillips Fox: his life and art, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1995, p 109.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray Australian portraits 1880–1960 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010