EMILY HILDA (RIX) NICHOLAS (1884-1961)
Emily Hilda Rix was born on 1 September 1884 in Ballarat, Victoria to Henry Finch Rix and Elizabeth (nee Sutton). Hilda attended Merton Hall in Melbourne before attending drawing classes at the National Gallery School under the tutelage of Frederick McCubbin. In 1904 Hilda's work was first exhibited at the Victorian Artists' Society. She continued to exhibit with them until Hilda left for Britain with her mother and sister after her father's death in 1907.
The family travelled extensively around Europe and Hilda was able to briefly attend the Atelier Delecluse and the Academie Colarossi whilst they were staying in Paris. The first time Hilda Rix's work was exhibited in Europe was at the Salon de la Societe des Artistes Francais in 1911. She proceeded to travel to Spain and Morocco to paint and the following year the French government purchased a pastel from a solo exhibition. Returning to Morocco in 1914 Hilda Rix was included in Les Peintres Orientalistses Francais show in the same year.
Continuing to find success in France, Hilda Rix established a studio in Paris and another in the expatriate artists's colony in Etaples. Etaples was home to an almost dream-like soft lighting that Hilda Rix enjoyed painting and drawing in. Whenever she visited Etaples she produced scenes of rural life whether it was the rustic buildings or the local women.
This idyllic existence came to an abrupt halt when World War 1 commenced. Hilda Rix, her mother and sister escaped to England via Etaples. The next few years would be the most painful of Hilda's life. His sister died in September in 1914 followed by her mother in 1916. She found a brief period of happiness when she married Major George Matson Nicholas in London. He returned to the Western Front just three days after the wedding and was killed in action. It was a blow Hilda Rix never forgot and she fell into a deep mourning for the love of her life she had spent such little time with. She began to paint dark scenes of war and sacrifice symbolising the grief so many were feeling. Despite being married for such a short time, Hilda would sign with Nicholas's last name until she died.
In 1918 Hilda Rixx Nicholas returned to Melbourne and continued to paint images of war however the images now became more patriotic in nature and fed into the growing mythology of the ANZACS. These were well received in a nation trying to come to terms with losing so many young men. She spent the early 1920s touring rural New South Wales. In 1925 she returned to France for the first time since the war ended and her exhibition Tableaux d'Australie was well received by both critics and the public and the Musee National du Luxembourg purchased an oil painting titled "In Australia'.
Over the next few years Hilda Rix Nicholas found a great deal of success. Her works were hung at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and between 1926 and 1928 her solo Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings of Australian Life toured around England. In these artworks Hilda Rix Nicholas presented English viewers with idyllic and prosperous images of Australia which acted as a form of advertising, attracting English citizens to Australia in search of a better life.
Returning home to Melbourne in 1926, Hilda Rix Nicholas continued to paint and exhibit. Her patriotism had only increased during her time in Europe and Nicholas believed the new schools of Modernism to be dangerous and left-wing in nature. Like many conservatives at the time, she felt that modern art encouraged Bolshevism and was considered a politically conservative Australian nationalist feminist.
In 1928 Hilda Rix Nicholas married again, this time to a grazier named Edgar Percy Wright. The couple moved Knockalong Station in rural New South Wales where in September 1930, Hilda gave birth to her only child, a son named Barrie Rix. Hilda Rix Nicholas designed a French style studio away from the main house. This building still stands on Knockalong with most her Hilda's paintings, drawings, costumes and other possessions still in the same places she left them.
After a long battle with Parkinson's disease Hilda Rix Nicholas Wright passed away in 1961. She was remembered for skilfully and beautifully executed paintings and drawings of North Africa and helping to create a patriotic Australian national identity tied in with the ANZAC legend and the notions of the 'lucky country'. Works by Hilda Rix Nicholas are held in all major public institutions across the country including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, National Gallery of Australia and National Gallery of Victoria.