Guide to the Papers of Hilda Rix Nicholas
National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record
Created: 2004, updated 2019
- Nicholas, Hilda Rix
- Papers of Hilda Rix Nicholas
- Date Range
- Collection Number
- MS 9817
- 5.25 metres (32 ms boxes + 1 medium folio-box + 1 digital carrier [110 digital files (0.32 GB)])
- Language of Materials
- Special Collections (Manuscripts)
Scope and Content
The collection comprises a lifetime's accumulation of papers by Hilda Rix Nicholas. The bulk of the papers comprise correspondence. There is a large series of letters written by Nicholas over a long period to her son, Rix Wright, and to her close friend, Dorothy Richmond. They are enhanced by the inclusion in the collection of many of the letters that they wrote to her. There is correspondence with a number of friends and acquaintances and business correspondence relating to Nicholas' career and to her day to-day-life. Apart from correspondence with Howard Ashton and Henrietta Gulliver over a number of years, there is little in the way of correspondence between Nicholas and other artists. Other correspondents include Will Ashton, Dion Boucicault, John Galsworthy, Bernard Hall, John Masefield, Charles Masson, William Moore, Mary Raphael and Dorothy Richmond.
There are travel journals and scrapbooks kept by both Hilda and Elsie during their time in Europe, including from a trip to Morocco in 1914. There are also travel journals from a trip to Europe in 1924, which were compiled by Hilda's travelling companion, Dorothy Richmond.
Other papers in the collection include exhibition catalogues, newspaper cuttings, financial papers and a small group of writings by Nicholas. There are a large number of black and white photographs, mostly relating to Nicholas' career, including photographs of a number of her works.
The collection is available for reference.
Copying and Publishing
Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.
Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of Hilda Rix Nicholas, National Library of Australia, MS 9817, [series and/or file number]'.
The papers were donated by Hilda Rix Nicholas Wright's son, Rix Wright, in 2003.
Some sections of the papers, particularly the correspondence, had been substantially rearranged by Nicholas' biographer, John Pigot, prior to their being deposited in the Library. It appears that Nicholas did not have any special arrangement of the papers, other than to group the letters of certain correspondents together. This being the case, the Library has imposed it's own arrangement on the papers.
Born-digital content - access arrangements
Born-digital content is found in Series 10/File 15: Copies of Photographs retained by the family. Access to this content is available on-site in the Special Collections Reading Room via the Virtual Reading Room.
Requests to access born-digital material must be made to the Pictures & Manuscripts Branch at least 2 working days in advance of any visit through the Ask A Librarian Service
Emily Hilda Rix Nicholas Wright was born in Ballarat on 1 September 1884, the second child of Henry Finch Rix, a mathematician and writer and Elizabeth (née Sutton), an artist. Hilda's talent for drawing was evident from a young age and her interest in art was encouraged by both parents. Her first formal training as an artist was at the National Gallery School in Melbourne, under Frederick McCubbin.
On 22 March 1907, following the death of her father the previous year, Hilda, her older sister Elsie and their mother travelled to Europe so that Hilda might further her studies in art. They lived in London, where Hilda studied under John Hassal and in Paris, where she studied under M. Castelluccio. They also travelled widely, exploring rural France, Spain, Italy and Morocco. They rented a studio in Etaples near Boulogne in France, a popular summer haunt of artists. They returned to the studio in following years, until the outbreak of World War I made it unsafe for them to do so. In 1912, following an exhibition of her work in Paris, the French Government purchased one of her works.
On their return to England at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, both Elsie and her mother became ill and were hospitalised in London. Elsie died of enteric fever and Hilda had to keep the news from her mother for three months until her health had improved enough for her to stand the shock. Hilda's mother died eighteen months later in 1916.
On 17 October 1916, Hilda married George Matson Nicholas, DSO, a major in the Australian Army. During the course of the war, he had been stationed at an Australian military base established at Etaples. He had discovered Hilda's studio there and impressed by her work, managed to make contact with her in England and a relationship blossomed. Six weeks after the wedding, Nicholas was killed in battle.
Hilda returned to Australia in 1918, settling first in Melbourne and then in 1919 moving to Sydney where she set up a studio in an old stable at Mosman. She continued to paint scenes depicting the Australian way of life, touring rural New South Wales on painting trips.
In 1924, Hilda and close friend Dorothy Richmond travelled to Europe on an extended trip. She took with her a number of her paintings - mainly pastoral scenes - with the intention of promoting Australia and Australian art. Exhibitions of her work were held in London and Paris. In Paris, Hilda hired a studio overlooking the Luxembourg Gardens and she and Dorothy lived there in a small attached area. Together they toured regional France, with Hilda capturing life in small villages. In 1925 the French Government purchased another of her works, In Australia. In 1926, Hilda was made an Associate of the Paris Salon. They returned to Australia in 1926.
In 1928, Hilda married Edgar Percy Wright, the son of a pioneer farming family, who had settled in the Monaro district. Hilda had met Edgar several years earlier on one of her painting trips. She moved to his property, Knockalong, near Delegate in New South Wales. In September 1930, Hilda gave birth to their only child, a son, Rix.
Hilda remained on the farm for the rest of her life, designing a large studio which was constructed near the house. She remained staunchly opposed to the trend of modernism, choosing instead to continue painting in the traditional style and depicting in her works images that enhanced the notion of the Australian idyll and nationalism. Several exhibitions of her work were held, the last being in Melbourne at the Sedon Gallery in 1947. After this time, failing health limited her artistic output.
Hilda was elected a Fellow of the Royal Empire Society, New South Wales Branch, in 1950.
Hilda Rix Nicholas died at Delegate in 1961. She is buried on a hillside at Knockalong.
Hilda Nicholas was an inveterate letter writer. This series comprises two substantial groups of letters written by Hilda, the first to her close friend Dorothy Richmond (1927-1961) and the second to her son, Rix, while he was at boarding school (1942-1949). Together this correspondence provides a vivid account of Hilda's life, much of it relating to her work and her thoughts on trends in modern art. There are also a small number of letters written by Hilda to others. (Note: see also Series 3 for letters to Hilda from Rix and Series 4 for letters of Dorothy to Hilda.)
This series comprises a small group of letters written by Edgar Wright to Hilda, Rix and Dorothy Richmond.
From 1942 to 1949, Hilda's son, Rix Wright, attended boarding school, firstly at Tudor House School in Moss Vale (1942-1943) and then at Geelong Grammar School in Victoria (1944-1949). This series comprises the many letters he wrote to his parents during his time at school. There are also letters he wrote to Dorothy Richmond and a small number of letters written to Rix by school friends.
In 1919, when Hilda moved to Sydney, she met Dorothy Richmond (later Mrs Walter Wright) who was known to Hilda and her family as 'Dodo'. She was to become Hilda's lifelong friend and confidante and they corresponded on a regular basis for the rest of their lives. Through their letters they discussed all aspects of their lives, including issues relating to Hilda's art and career. Hilda kept many of Dorothy's letters and they are contained in this series. There are also a small number of letters Dorothy wrote to others, including Rix (her godson), Edgar and members of her family. (Note: see Series 1 for letters Hilda wrote to Dorothy and Series 8 for papers relating to her trip to Europe with Hilda)
On her return to Australia in 1918, Hilda met Henrietta Gulliver, a still life and landscape painter in Melbourne. Gulliver (known to Hilda as "Koala") was at one time President of the Women's Art Club (formed in 1902 and today known as the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors) and one of the original members of Twenty Melbourne Painters (formed in 1918). She became a surrogate mother figure to Hilda and helped rekindle her interest in her career. They remained friends until Gulliver's death in 1945. This series comprises letters written by Gulliver to Hilda.
In 1942, Hilda and Edgar Wright became the guardians of John Emery, a school friend of Rix at Tudor House School, Moss Vale. His mother, Nancy, and his father were an English couple working in India. They had enrolled John into boarding school in Australia as it was closer to India than schools in England for the purpose of home visits. However, with the outbreak of war, no travel was permitted and they did not see their son again until 1946, after which they returned to England. John Emery spent many of his holidays at Knockalong with the Wright family. Contained in this series are the letters written by both Nancy and John Emery to the Wright family.
This series comprises correspondence with friends and acquaintances, together with business correspondence relating to Hilda's work and her day-to-day life. Apart from correspondence with Howard Ashton (1937-1956), with whom Hilda developed a close friendship, there is only a small amount of correspondence with other artists. There are a small number of letters from Will Ashton, Bernard Hall and William Moore. There are photocopies of letters (the originals of which have been retained by the family) from Datillo Rubo (1919) and Rupert Bunny (1939).
The earliest letters relating to Hilda's career as an artist comprise letters from Charles Masson (1913-1928), one time Director of the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris and from A.G. Potin of the Galerie de Tableaux, Paris. Throughout the series there are letters from various galleries relating to exhibitions and sales of Hilda's work. Hilda's last exhibition was held in 1947 at the Sedon Gallery, Melbourne. There is correspondence with Will Ashton, W. R. Sedon and Sir Keith Murdoch relating to the exhibition.
While Rix was attending Geelong Grammar School, Hilda developed a friendship with the Headmaster, James Darling, and his wife, Margaret, and she continued to correspond with them well after Rix had finished his schooling. In 1949 Hilda presented a portrait of Darling to the school.
There are a large number of letters from friends and acquaintances including Lydia Crawford, Lucy Haase, Meg Line, Jill Lobb and Gwen Wilson (Henrietta Gulliver's daughters), Andy McLelland, June Potts, Mary Raphael (known to Hilda as 'Bunny') and Beatrice Tange (known to Hilda as 'Ticky').
Included in this series is a small group of early letters to Hilda's mother and to her sister Elsie (1908-1914).
Re exhibiting at David Jones' Gallery, Sydney
Re exhibiting in America
In 1924, Hilda and her close friend Dorothy Richmond travelled to Europe for an extended stay. Hilda took with her a number of her paintings, with the intention of promoting Australian art and the Australian way of life. Exhibitions of her work were held in London and Paris. In Paris, Hilda hired a studio overlooking the Luxembourg Gardens and she and Dorothy lived there in a small attached area. Together they toured regional France, with Hilda capturing life in small villages. In 1925 the French Government purchased her painting In Australia. In 1926, Hilda was honoured to be appointed an Associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. They returned to Australia in 1926.
This series comprises papers relating to Hilda's time in Europe. There are letters written by Hilda and Dorothy to Dorothy's family, letters from friends and correspondence relating to exhibitions of Hilda's work and to her appointment to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Correspondents include John Masefield, John Galsworthy, Dion Boucicault and Mary Raphael (known to Hilda as 'Bunny').
During their time away, Dorothy Richmond kept a record of the trip in the form of letter books. The originals were sent home and the carbon copy remaining in the book formed a journal of their activities. The five journals she created are contained in this series. They also include whimsical drawings by Dorothy. In some cases the original pages of the journals are also held. In addition, Dorothy wrote several articles relating to their experiences and manuscript and typescript copies of them are included.
During the course of her career, Hilda's works were included in a number of exhibitions, both in Australia and in Europe. This series comprises catalogues from those exhibitions. The earliest catalogue in the series dates from a 1912 exhibition in Paris, at which one of Hilda's works was purchased by the French Government for its national collection. At a 1925 exhibition in Paris another of her works, In Australia, was also purchased for the collection. Following this exhibition, Hilda was made an Association of the Paris Salon.
The latest catalogue is for a retrospective of Hilda's work, held in 1971 at the Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne.
The bulk of this series comprises black and white prints and photocopies of photographs, the originals of which have been retained by the family. The photographs span a number of years and relate principally to Hilda's career. There are photographs of many of her paintings and of an exhibition of her works held in the Guildhall, Melbourne, in 1918, on her return from Europe. There are early photographs from the 1920s of Hilda on painting excursions to French country towns and the Australian countryside and photographs of her studio at Mosman (c1920), which were taken by Harold Cazneaux.
There are family photographs dating from 1885 and a packet of mostly unidentified and undated small black and white photographs, most of which appear to have been taken at Knockalong. There are also a small number of photographs of the homestead at Knockalong and photographs of Hilda in her studio, which were taken by Max Dupain.
Access to the digital content in Series 10/File 15 is available on-site (upon request) in the Special Collections Reading Room via the Virtual Reading Room.
Digitised images (110 TIFF Files, 0.32 GB) of photographs and paintings described in Series 10/1-15. The items were loaned to the Library for digitisation in May 2003. Printed copies of the digitised images are available in Series 10/Folders 1-15.
The numbering system applied by the Library's digitisatiion agent has been retained and consists of a numeric sequence. Digital files are stored in their original copying sequence.
Born-digital content - access arrangements
Born-digital content. Access to this content is available on-site in the Special Collections reading room via the Virtual Reading Room.
Requests to access born-digital material must be made at least 2 working days in advance of any visit through Ask A Librarian Service.
Contained in this series is a small group of writings by Hilda. There are notes and drafts of an unpublished autobiography entitled 'In search of beauty'; the draft of an article entitled 'Art of the moment and through all the ages', nd and writings by Hilda about her art. There are drafts of papers presented by Hilda at institutions including The Art Circle of the Lyceum Club, Sydney, nd; Sydney University, 1927; the Country Women's Association, nd and the Women Painters Society, 1920. There is also a copy of a London journal entitled Drawing & design - a magazine for students of art, Nov 1925, which includes an article by Hilda about her art.
This series comprises newspaper cuttings relating to Hilda's career and to her sister Elsie, who performed in musical recitals when they lived in Melbourne. There are early cutting books compiled by Elsie, including one which was continued by Hilda after Elsie's death in 1914. There is a small group of loose cuttings.
Contained in this series are a small group of financial papers accumulated by Hilda. There are accounts for art supplies and equipment, household goods, clothing and stationery, several bank statements and a number of cheque butts. There is an account from the Hotel Cecil, London for October 2-10, 1916 when Hilda was married.
This series contains papers relating to Hilda and her family. There are travel journals and scrapbooks kept by both Hilda and her sister Elsie during their trip to Europe, which commenced in March 1907, early ephemera and a scrapbook of poetry and verse compiled by Elsie.
There are papers relating to Knockalong, the originals of which have been retained by the family. They comprise correspondence relating to the purchase of furnishings for the house and art supplies for Hilda and sketches of Hilda's proposed studio, alterations to the house and the garden layout.
Much of the material in this series comprises photocopies of originals which have been retained by the family.
Copy of the Education Gazette and Teachers' Aid, which refers to the death of Henry Rix in 1906
Relating to the deaths of Elsie, Hilda's mother and Matson and to Hilda's return to Australia
During her travels in Europe from 1907 to 1918, Hilda accumulated a large group of mostly black and white postcards to use as aide-mémoires in her work. The postcards are contained in this series and have been sorted into the following categories: Paris, London, Etaples, Italy, Holland and Works of art.
Contained in this series is a small group of miscellaneous papers accumulated by Hilda. Included are drafts of children's stories written by Hilda's close friend, Dorothy Richmond, and a typescript of poetry composed by another friend, Mary Raphael.
2 files and one small box
In 1912, Hilda travelled by boat to Tangiers where she spent two months painting. In 1914 Hilda returned to Tangiers for three months, accompanied by Elsie.
Contained in this series are letters and postcards written by both Hilda and Elsie during the two trips. There is also a letterbook-style journal kept by Elsie in which she records their daily activities. She wrote in it while Hilda painted and it includes evocative on-the-spot descriptions of their exotic surroundings and interesting events that occurred.
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