Hilda Rix Nicholas

Australian Landscape and portrait painter, was born in Ballarat on 1 September 1884, second daughter of Elizabeth and Henry Finch Rix. Her mother was a competent painter who studied at the National Gallery School; her father, a well-respected teacher, later became Inspector of Schools in the Beechworth district where the family lived until 1894. When they returned to Melbourne, Elizabeth Rix became an active member of the Austral Salon. Hilda later attended Merton Hall and, together with her sister Elsie, had painting lessons from Mr Mather ( John Mather ).

In 1902-5 Hilda studied at the National Gallery School with Frederick McCubbin . In 1906 Henry Rix died unexpectedly; the following year, after a joint exhibition, Elizabeth, Elsie and Hilda left Australia bound for Europe. Soon after her arrival in London, Hilda Rix enrolled at the New Art School in Kensington, where she studied with the well-known poster artist John Hassall. Moving to Paris at the end of October 1907, she enrolled at the Académie Delécluse for a short time. She also studied with the fashionable and successful American painter Richard Miller, and with Claudio Castelucho and Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiére. In 1911 her painting Retour de la Chasse was accepted by the Old Salon and hung ‘on the line’.

Before World War I she painted for a part of each year at Etaples, the well-known artists’ colony in northern France. She travelled to Morocco in 1912 and 1914. When war broke out the family was evacuated from Etaples; Elizabeth and Elsie Rix both contracted enteric fever during the crossing to England. Elsie died soon after their arrival and Elizabeth in 1916. Later that year Hilda Rix met Major George Matson Nicholas, whom she married on 7 October 1916. He returned to the Front three days later and was killed in action in November.

Returning to Australia in 1918, Rix Nicholas exhibited her European pictures in Melbourne and in Sydney in 1919. Australian critics were amazed by the range and versatility of her work. Almost immediately after her return, however, she re-defined her artistic practice, transforming her European imagery into nationalistic pictures of Australian country life. She returned to France in 1924 intending to show Europe ‘what is possessed in a land of beauty… which sent so many gallant men to the struggle for liberty’. Her new Australian work was exhibited in Paris and London in 1925, and in 1926 she was elected an associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts (New Salon).

In September 1926 Rix Nicholas returned to Australia. She married Edgar Wright in June 1928 and moved to his property, Knockalong, at Delegate in southern NSW. Their only child was born in 1930. She continued to exhibit her work throughout the 1930s and ’40s, although by then her imagery was out of step with contemporary developments. Failing eyesight and ill health made it difficult for her to paint during the 1950s. She died on 3 August 1961.