Sunday, June 2, 2013

The latest art exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery: Paris to Monaro. Pleasures from the studio of Hilda Rix Nicholas

Bringing in the sheep c. 1936. Hilda Rix Nicholas oil on canvas Bega Valley Art and Craft Society’s Permanent Collection, Bega Valley Regional Gallery

 I had the pleasure on Thursday, of being invited to the opening night of the latest exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, called: Paris to Monaro, which is an exhibition by a local Australia artist, Hilda Rix Nicolas. Since moving to Canberra last year, several institutions have become my favourite places; the War Memorial is one, and the National Portrait Gallery is another. So, needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to attend an opening night of the latest exhibition.

 At this point I have to admit that I am not an art critic. I know nothing about brush stokes, quality of light, and I certainty cannot tell you what the Impressionist movement is! I can barely draw a straight line, although I did win first prize in a painting competition when I was five, at the village fete in Somerset, and won five shillings. However, the event was marred considerably by the fact my parents made me give both of my sisters a shilling each!  So, as far as art goes, I know what I like, and what I don't like, but that is about it.

The opening night of the Hilda Rix Nicholas exhibition got off to a mixed start. I really enjoyed my free glass of bubbles, and was very pleased to actually get to see Robyn Archer in person - I haven't been in Australia very long but I know enough to know that Robyn Archer is famous here - and she opened the exhibition. We were told that there were a number of ambassadors attending, so I had great fun trying to work out who was an ambassador, and what country he/she represented. But, on the down side, my daughter, who had arranged to meet me, turned up with blood pouring all over the place- she had fallen over in the dark and had a really nasty cut on her arm. However, a very nice security officer got out her first aid box and patched Ellen up.

The exhibition is lovely because it captures the imagination on a number of levels, and is definitely worth visiting. Hilda Rix Nicholas is a fascinating woman in her own right.  She was born in Ballarat in 1884, travelled widely overseas between 1907 and 1926, studying and painting in England and France. The story goes that Major George Matson Nicholas, D.S.O., from Melbourne, found and admired her abandoned paintings in France. They met and married, but tragically he was killed in France, in the First World War, only a few months later.

Eventually, Hilda came to Canberra to paint and married Edgar Percy Wright, a grazier, and went to live at Knockalong station, Delegate, in the broad, bleached landscape of the Monaro, New South Wales. Her son Barrie Rix was born when she was 46. She was an extremely successful artist who was not part of any group, movement or set; her art is not assigned to any ‘school’. She is an anomaly amongst Australian women artists of the first half of the twentieth century; combining 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. Hilda died in1961.

Ellen and I really enjoyed the exhibition. Ellen particularly connected with the Australian landscapes. She felt the realness of them - the colours and details made her as if she was part of the paintings. I was more drawn to Hilda's charcoal drawings; of the brothers of her husband, and of her son, who she clearly adored. They seemed a lot more authentic to me, compared to the idealised landscapes. However, what this does demonstrate is this exhibition speaks to different people in different ways. If you go, let me know how Hilda's art spoke to you.

Paris to Monaro: pleasures from the studio of Hilda Rix Nicholas is open now, until the 11th August 2013

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