Glenalvon, Murrurundi depicts an area Jessie Scarvell painted on several occasions, the rural landscape around the picturesque mountains of the Liverpool Ranges in the Upper Hunter region of NSW. Scarvell painted en plein air and her harmonious use of colour is clear, with the muted soft purples, grey and green of the background contrasted against the brighter green, blue and touches of pink in the foreground.
The viewer’s eye is attracted by the detailed thistle foliage, echoed in the grasses across the stream, with the white sheep in-between. Textured brush marks and soft light colours give way to a stronger band of green which draws our eye back to the purple mountain range, birds wheeling in the sky amid an aura of calm in this celebration of pastoral beauty.
The painterly marks, particularly evident in the depiction of the stream and grassy bank, and the focus point of yellow flowered pasture weed are reminiscent of archetypical Australian Impressionist paintings such as Charles Conder’s Herrick’s Blossom c.1888 and Arthur Streeton’s Golden Summer, Eaglemont 1889.
Scarvell’s painting Glenalvon, Murrurundi was included in the Art Society of New South Wales annual exhibition in 1895 and illustrated in the catalogue. It appears to be in its original frame.
Scarvell exhibited regularly with the Art Society of New South Wales in the 1890s and was included in the Exhibition of Australian Art in London at the Grafton Galleries in 1898. Her career spans over a short period of perhaps six years in the 1890s, prior to her marriage.
Jessie Scarvell is represented in the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the S. H. Ervin Gallery, where an exhibition of work in 2012 brought new awareness to this female artist of the Australian Impressionist School.
Isobel Rae was known as “Iso”, her nickname a somewhat relevant and familiar word to us today, as was her likely experience of isolation. At the outbreak of World War I, Iso Rae remained in Etaples, France with her mother and sister, whilst most foreigners moved away from the former peaceful fishing village, which had been home to a thriving expatriate artistic community.
Iso and her sister Alison worked for the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) with the British Red Cross from 1915 – 1919. As an artist, Rae depicted the scenes around her, producing around 200 drawings, mostly pastels and gouache, depicting the daily life of the military camp at Etaples.
Her lively and sensitive drawings are now recognised as important historical and social documents, beyond their artistic merit. Although not officially appointed as a war artist, Iso Rae was one of two Australian women who documented the war for many years (the other being Jessie Traill who worked in a military hospital during World War I).
The camp at Etaples was a place where allied troops – French, British, Canadian, Scottish, New Zealand and Australian forces, gathered before being called up to fight; a training facility; supplies depot; a detention centre and home to thousands in tent cities and ordered hospitals. Iso Rae captured camp life in her drawings of soldiers; the barracks; the hospitals; the prisoners, both German and allied; their accommodation; the horses; their training and recreation (football, cinema, theatre).
Iso Rae was a skilled draughtsperson, her marks lively and capturing a spontaneity, yet balanced with thought-out and balanced compositions. This is a particularly fine drawing depicting a group of soldiers huddled around a brazier at night, embers blowing in the breeze and their individual uniforms bathed in an eerie glow. We have identified the figures as Scottish; the blue coat of the Hospital Blues worn by convalescents; Australian with the slouch hat and New Zelander with the ‘lemon squeezer’ hat. The peaked tents in the background provide an anchored backdrop giving a further intimacy to the group of figures.
There is an aura of quiet and calm, the relaxed poses and dangling cigarettes, but one laced with tension or perhaps boredom; the holding pattern of an unknown future the nature for many at Etaples. This is not a depiction of heroes of war, rather the gritty reality and the daily grind of behind the scenes. Rae’s use of coloured paper highlights the contrast between the army brown and the bright red and orange balanced against the blues and touch of green found in a hat band.
The drawing is accompanied by a letter of dedication from the matron at Etaples on behalf of the nurses and VAD to a Captain MacIlwaine.
“The energy and liveliness of outdoor crowds occupied Ethel Carrick Fox throughout her career, and she was particularly fascinated by markets, parks and beaches. Perfect subjects for her swiftly wrought impressions, these turn-of-the-century public spaces were being transformed by modernity.” Angela Goddard, ‘Modernity in Motion: Ethel Carrick’s crowds’ in Art, Love & Life: Ethel Carrick & E. Phillips Fox, Queensland Art Gallery, 2011, p.79
Ethel Carrick Fox has been described as ‘colourful’ and ‘daring’, both in her art and her life. An inevitable comparison with her husband Emanuel Phillips Fox certainly bears this out, as she moved beyond an impressionist sensibility to the more colourful and linear style of post-impressionism, as would have been the flavour in Paris. Her paintings of daily life; flower studies and works inspired by travels, are imbued with vibrant colour, strong composition and a concern to explore light. Her inclusion in the Salon d’Automne (created in 1903 as a move away from the academic and bringing movements such as fauvism and cubism to greater notice) from 1906, further highlights her lifelong trend of not conforming to social expectations of the time; particularly focussing on her career.
Ethel Carrick Fox is best known for her vibrant paintings created en plein air, capturing the leisure class of Paris – the markets; parks; gardens and beaches of France. The rich dabs of pure bright colour and a focus on decorative rather than narrative elements, allow the strength of her understanding of colour and her considered compositions to shine through.
Carrick Fox established her successful career in Paris and London and in her regular visits to Australia, where she held exhibitions of her work and undertook painting excursions. A painting of a French flower market by Carrick Fox sold at auction in 1996 becoming the highest price achieved by an Australian woman artist; with more recent sales over one million dollars (in 2008 and 2019) overtaking this earlier precedent.