As part of Canberra’s centenary celebrations, the National Portrait Gallery will honour the life and work of Hilda Rix Nicholas.
- Autumn evening’s golden glow c. 1942 by Hilda Rix Nicholas, oil on canvas, Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art, Perth
Nicholas, born in Ballarat in 1884, travelled widely overseas between 1907 and 1926 and achieved considerable success as an artist. Having come home with her paintings and exotic mementoes, in 1927 she came to Canberra to paint on Red Hill and Mount Pleasant. The following year she married Edgar Wright, whose grandfather had owned Lanyon. Nicholas moved her paintings, trunks of costumes and French furniture and fittings to Wright’s property, Knockalong, via Delegate in the broad bleached landscape of the Monaro. There, when she was forty-six, and pregnant, she built a ‘room of her own’ – a French provincial style studio, built to her own blueprints, and connected to the house by a garden that she designed and planted out herself.
Hilda Rix Nicholas was not part of any group, movement or set; her art is not to be assigned to any ‘school’. She is an anomaly amongst Australian women artists of the first half of the twentieth century not because she lived for her art – many women did – but because she combined an artist’s dedication, ambition and relentless self-promotion with a full life as a partner in a grazing and wool enterprise, and utter devotion to the physical, intellectual and aesthetic development of her son. Some of her best-loved paintings, such as The Fair Musterer and Bringing in the Sheep, show women at work. It has not often been observed, however, that from 1930 onwards, Hilda Rix Nicholas was a very successful working mother.
In Paris to Monaro, Hilda Rix Nicholas’s breezy, high-coloured paintings and drawings of her family and friends in the Monaro landscape will be shown for the first time amongst artefacts, furniture, fabulous garments, souvenirs and ephemera brought directly from the studio she designed and created for herself at Knockalong. The studio still stands, isolated now in the uncompromising paddocks, its mediaeval fireplace, musicians’ gallery and pantomime stage unchanged, its canvases rolled and its drawers of art materials undisturbed. Part of this magically incongruous space will be recreated at full scale in the exhibition.