The Harvest Field

Emanuel Phillips Fox
Oil on canvas
113.5cm x 153cm
Copyright Whitehorse City Council
Gifted by J.S. Gawler on his retirement from Council in 1952

Twenty-five years after the City of Whitehorse Art Collection was founded in 1927, a retiring Councillor, J.S. Gawler, donated two significant works by E. Phillips Fox to the fledgling collection. Autumn Evening,1899, and The Harvest Field,1905, are representative of a sizable body of historic artworks within the City of Whitehorse Art Collection.

Emanuel Phillips Fox (1865 – 1915) was the son of Alexander Fox, noted panoramic photographer (1830 – c.1870). The young Fox attended the National Gallery Victoria School from 1881-1886, winning the student prize for landscape there in 1885. He also studied, not unusually for an artist of his time, in France – at the Académie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1887. He exhibited widely in Europe, including a show at the Salon des Artistes Français in 1890, before returning to Melbourne. He established the Melbourne Art School with Tudor St George Tucker (1862 – 1906) in 1893.

Fox was a painter of note in Melbourne at the turn of the twentieth century. He was much admired by the arts establishment for his work abroad. The trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria commissioned the artist to paint The Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay between 1900-1901. The work was created in London, as per the terms of the Gillbee bequest. Working in England, brought Fox into contact with the artist Ethel Carrick (1872 – 1952), whom he married in 1905. The two artists settled in France, and travelled widely throughout Europe. Fox also travelled to Tahiti in 1914, in the footsteps of the great artist Gaugin.

Fox was associated with a number of artists that painted in the Box Hill area in the late nineteenth century. He is considered to be an important member of this group of early Australian Impressionists by countless art historians. In the 1890s, Fox took a lease on a property in the environs of Heidelberg where he painted a series of autumnal paintings, including Autumn Evening.

The Harvest Field is a typical rural painting of its time. It is an insightful rendering of the heroic value of farm labour. Many artists in Europe and Australia painted similar subject matter with the same sensitivity. The artwork is of ‘central importance to the collection’ as it symbolizes the ‘plein-air movement in English and European painting, a strong influence on Australian painters in the late nineteenth century’.

The Harvest Field is occasionally exhibited in major exhibitions of historic works in state and regional galleries.

Further Reading

Clabburn, A. ‘Catching the light’ in The City of Whitehorse Art Collection, City of Whitehorse, Nunawading, Victoria, 2003

Clark, J. and Whitelaw, B. Golden Summers: Heidelberg and Beyond, International Cultural Corporation of Australia Limited: Melbourne, 1985

Eagle, M. The Oil Paintings of E. Phillips Fox in the National Gallery of Australia, NGV, 1997

McCulloch, A & McCulloch, S. The Encyclopedia of Australian Art, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW, 1994

Sanders, E. ‘Evolution of a collection’ in The City of Whitehorse Art Collection, City of Whitehorse, Nunawading, Victoria, 2003