Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia 1865 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1915
not titled [Portrait of Mary Nanson]
[Portrait of Mary Meyer] late 1890s
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, drawing in charcoal Support: thin smooth buff laid paper
Manufacturer's Mark: no manufcaturer's mark
Emanuel Phillips Fox’s delicate charcoal study of Mary Nanson was drawn in the late 1890s, just a few years after his return to Melbourne from France. In Paris, Fox had been disciplined in the academic tradition under Gérôme and Bouguereau at the Académie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He had gained first-hand knowledge of the works of the Romanticists Millet, Corot and Courbet; and had become steeped in the art of the Impressionists, with its remarkable qualities of colour and light.
In 1893, the year after his return from France, Fox established the Melbourne Art School with Tudor St George Tucker. Mary Nanson was a student at the school and an accomplished artist in her own right. She later became the wife of Dr Felix Meyer, an early patron of the Heidelberg School. The couple were great collectors and respected and liberal supporters of the arts.
In the quiet half-light of the closing day, Mary sits calmly in the comfort of her solitude, as if in a dreamlike trance. This typically intimate study embodies Fox’s expertise as a draughtsman and portrait artist and illustrates his appreciation of the tonal qualities of the charcoal medium in which he was so skilled. The portrait also provides an insight into Fox’s understanding of composition. Mary sits slightly to the left of centre. The eye follows her subtly modelled form diagonally down the picture plane; from her gentle face to the ruffle of her shirt, to her opulent belt buckle and the elegant flounces of her cuffs, and then to her hands lightly clasped in her lap. All are luminous in the subdued afternoon light.
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