Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia 1865 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1915
[Sunlight effect (or) The communicant] c.1889
Paris, Île-de-France, Ville de Paris department, France
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas
E. Phillips Fox, together with Rupert Bunny, Bertram Mackennal and John Peter Russell, worked in Europe intermittently during the late 1880s and 1890s. Instead of portraying Australian life, they sought a wider experience, an encounter with the diversity of styles being adopted by artists in London and Paris.
Sunlight effect was painted when Fox was a student of two years standing at the Académie Julian in Paris. He had encountered the French modern style of painting and taken lessons in prismatic colour practice. In Paris he discovered his major theme – light. The subject of a Breton novice coifed in white was popular with the French artist Jules Bastien-Lepage, who had gained a following with his paintings of peasant life. Fox’s composition is not even original. Instead, Sunlight effect is remarkable for other qualities: the patterning of the landscape as a medley of confetti-sized touches of colour, and the glowing illumination of the head enclosed in a white coif. Undiverted by the conventional elaboration of narrative detail, the content is expressed through colour and light.
Even for a painter in Paris the colour was avant-garde. These were neither the sappy greens, crisp blues and poppy reds of the French Impressionists nor the primary colours in saturated strength, but the rainbow hues mixed with white to an even, pastel brightness that was currently fashionable. More significantly, it was the approximation of prismatic light, the goal of so much painting in the later 19th century, witnessed by Fox in Paris in the new palette of Impressionists Monet, Pissarro and Seurat, and Fox’s American teacher, Alexander Harrison.
1 Mary Eagle, The Oil Paintings of E. Phillips Fox in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1997, p.11.
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