I visited the Queensland Art Gallery yesterday to see the latest exhibitions. One, Art, Love and Life: Ethel Carrick and E Phillips Fox, covers the work of a husband and wife team, Emanuel Phillips Fox (1865-1915) and Ethel Carrick (1872-1952). The other, Lloyd Rees: Life and Light, contains a selection from the pencil and pen drawings of the Brisbane-born artist, Lloyd Rees (1895-1988). Both exhibitions are worth a visit; they make an interesting comparison to see them together.
The Carrick/Fox exhibition shows two artists who travelled widely and painted in many places. There are very few gum trees! Emanuel Fox was born in Melbourne to Jewish parents. He trained briefly in Victoria, along with contemporaries who became painters of the Australian legend – Fred McCubbin, John Longstaff, Rupert Bunny and others – but in 1887, he headed for France. Like other Australian artists, he visited the iconic spots – John Peter Russell‘s home at Belle Ile in Brittany, Monet’s home at Giverny – and some of the methods of the Impressionists rubbed off on him. He also went to England and Spain, and there are bits of Whistler in his work, too.
He came back to Melbourne in 1892 and started the Melbourne School of Art. The exhibition includes a wonderful painting he did of his women students working at their easels, but perhaps wisely, it doesn’t include the most familiar image he ever produced, ‘The Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay’, commissioned in 1900 by the National Gallery of Victoria, which decorates a dozen school textbooks. Even artists need to eat.
Ethel Carrick was English. They married in 1905, and Emanuel died in 1915, so they only had a few years together. They had no children, but spent their time painting together – the same scenes, the same models, the same props – living in Paris or travelling. There are paintings from France, North Africa, Venice, India and Australia – and I suspect A beach scene at Manly was just as exotic when it was hung in Bordeaux, as their paintings from North Africa are to us. It’s a good marketing strategy, to paint the exotic, and a canny way to fund your travel, but as a result, most of their work is world art, not Australian art – and none the worse for that.
While Carrick and Fox chose exotic locations for their paintings, Lloyd Rees did the opposite – at least on the evidence of this current exhibition of his drawings. These are local, intimate images of the people and places around him, mostly in Brisbane. Rees lived into his 90s, sketching almost to the end of his life, so his life and work spans nearly a century of Brisbane’s growth from country town to capital city.
He knew everyone in the local art scene: he was engaged to Daphne Mayo; he taught Vida Lahey; he was a member of the Half Dozen Group of artists, founded in Brisbane in 1940 and still going strong.
I had a memorable a-hah moment yesterday when I came across Lloyd Rees’s sketch of ‘George Eaton singing, c. 1922’. George was my grandmother’s older brother. I never knew him, but he was part of the Brisbane theatrical scene in the 1920s – so of course, Lloyd Rees would have known him, too.
Rees travelled to Europe too, just like Ethel Carrick and E Phillips Fox. He first visited Europe in the 1920s, and went again during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but he seems to have lacked the restlessness of the earlier couple. Perhaps by the 1950s, an artist could feel comfortable in his own skin in Australia, even one from such a regional backwater as Brisbane.
If you are reading this in Brisbane, Lloyd Rees: Life and Light, is on until 13 June 2011, free entry.
Art, Love and Life: Ethel Carrick and E Phillips Fox is on until 7 August 2011, $12.
I’m giving a talk at the gallery in conjunction with the Carrick/Fox exhibition on 26 June, 2.30pm. The blurb says: ‘Historian Marion Diamond journeys through time to look at Australian colonial history in an international context, exploring some of the networks established across the world at the turn of the nineteenth century.’ As of this moment, I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m going to say – but no doubt I’ll think of something.
Michael Hawker, Lloyd Rees: Early Brisbane Drawings, (2011)
Vida Lahey: Colour and Modernism