Ethel Carrick Fox

On Balmoral Beach, 1913

Mosman Art Trail Sign 7 located in front of The Boathouse Balmoral, The Esplanade.

Listen to an audio recording, read by Claudia Karvan, to learn more about this artwork. 

From their home in Paris, English-born Ethel Carrick Fox and her Australian husband Emanuel Phillips Fox made in May 1913 their second trip to Australia. In August, following a successful solo exhibition in Melbourne, Carrick Fox went alone to Sydney to paint, staying with Theosophist friends in the Mosman area. In the early 20th century, Sydney was home to one of the largest branches of the Theosophical movement, attracting the attention of many middle-class educated women, including Carrick Fox. 1 With an additional pied à terre at Theosophist headquarters at The Manor on Iluka Road, the artist was provided with immediate access to popular and picturesque harbour beaches, a painting subject she had already mastered in Europe alongside famous French Impressionists. 2 It is during this Sydney sojourn that Fox painted the lively and vibrant On Balmoral Beach, with its confident and fluid handling of dappled and pure sunlight, framed with a silhouetted native tree in the foreground. A keen painter of crowds and lively scenes, here Carrick Fox, in thick paint of jewelled tones, traces the movement of elegant women promenading and boisterous children at leisure on a windy day at the seaside. 

While Balmoral had provided rock shelter and an abundant fishing site for the indigenous Cammeraygal people for dozens of generations 3 in 1878 the area was declared a Public Reserve. As the Foxes had done at Belle Époque seaside resorts on the coast of Brittany and Normandy, here the artist records a local burgeoning enthusiasm for outdoor leisure; her visit taking place only ten years after the lifting of the colonial-era daytime swimming bans (although still with gender-segregated schedules). On Balmoral Beach depicts few people in the water. Instead, the women and children of the fashionable upper class are on the shore, identifiable by their expensive white dresses and brimmed hats, cursory dashes of white, cream and black against the turquoise water of the harbour. 

Described in the press at the time as displaying “an almost child-like love of light, movement and the interplay of brilliant hues” 4, Carrick Fox’s paintings of Sydney Harbour showed not only Sydneysiders’ enthusiasm for the beach, but also, palpably, the artist’s own enjoyment of the area - she would return to continue visiting the city for the rest of her life. She was a consummate impressionist painter, devoting herself to scenes of modern life, practising her craft briskly out of doors, and delighting in the passing effects of light and animated movement of people. She brought back to Australia new ideas and techniques of the avant garde post impressionists, particularly a ‘broken colour’ technique, where thick malleable dabs of unmixed paint are placed directly onto unprimed canvas, best viewed from a distance. In Fox’s oil ‘sketches’, this loose effect, beyond conveying the energy of human life, also was intended to capture the vital energies of the universe, as was taught in Theosophy, the esoteric philosophical movement that Ethel Carrick Fox would devote much of her life to, especially in widowhood. 

1 Eggleston, C., The Women Who Painted Mosman: Theosophy, lecture held at Mosman Art Gallery, Sydney, 19 May 2023
2 de Vries, S., Ethel Carrick Fox, Pandanus Press, Brisbane, 1997, p. 80
3 Aboriginal Heritage of Mosman, State of NSW and Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water NSW, 2010, pp. 5 - 6 
4 ‘Impressionism’, Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 7 November 1913, p. 7

Text by Lucie Reeves-Smith.

Estate of the late Jack (John) A. Hetherington, Melbourne
Thence by descent
Mrs Mollie Hetherington, née Maginnis, Melbourne, from 1974 
Private collection 
Sotheby’s, Sydney, 7 May 2007, lot 52 
Balnaves Collection, Sydney, acquired from the above 
Mosman Art Gallery, Sydney, a gift from the above, 2011 

Possibly: Exhibition of Pictures by Mrs E. Phillips Fox (Ethel Carrick), Anthony Hordern's Fine Art Gallery, Sydney, 6-22 November 1913 (as 'Notes of Sydney Harbour')

Finucane, P. and Stuart C., Odd Roads to be Walking. 156 Women Who Shaped Australian Art, Red Barn Publishing, Ireland, 2019, p. 57 (illus.) 

Photo credit Jacquie Manning

Additional Specifications

(1872 - 1952) 
oil on canvas on board 
26.0 x 34.0 cm
signed lower right (indistinct) 
signed and inscribed with title verso
bears artist's name and alternate title 'Balmoral Beach, Sydney' on label on backing verso