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France’s Belle Époque (‘beautiful era’) spans the period from the late nineteenth century to the outbreak of the First World War. Widespread peace in Europe at this time encouraged cultural and technological innovations that became part of the development of ‘modern’ life.
For many city workers, modernisation meant time for leisure, and newly built railways transported thousands of holidaymakers to seaside resorts where they embraced the latest fashion — sea bathing.
Ethel Carrick Fox’s On the beach c.1909 captures the movement and visual effects of beach crowds. Like many painters at this time, Carrick Fox was a professional observer who recorded sunlit scenes of everyday life among the European middle classes, just as French artists Monet and Renoir had done in the 1870s.
The mix of bright colours and sunlight provided the perfect opportunity to experiment with new artistic techniques, including using dabs of paint to portray fleeting impressions.
Born in England, Ethel Carrick Fox studied painting at the prestigious Slade School of Art in London, where she was encouraged to paint outdoors and to use close observation when recording what she saw.
In 1901, she met Australian artist E Phillips Fox at an artists’ colony in St Ives, Cornwall. They married in 1905 and over the next decade enjoyed both an artistic and romantic partnership. Based in Paris as part of an international artists’ community, they travelled throughout Europe, North Africa and Australia in search of ‘exotic’ subjects. While travelling, they often sketched side by side outdoors, producing paintings of the same scene. After her husband’s sudden death in 1915, Carrick Fox continued travelling and painting in Australia, North Africa, India and Europe.