Hilda Rix Nicholas drew this portrait of Major George Matson Nicholas two days after their wedding in October 1916. He was killed in France a month later (Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial © ART96807).

Rare WW1 portraits by Hilda Rix Nicholas join Australian War Memorial collection

Posted on centenarynews.com on 27 July 2015
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The Australian War Memorial has acquired a rare collection of portraits by an Australian artist whose work was inspired by her own loss during the First World War. 

The nine pictures of soldiers, by Hilda Rix Nicholas, have been purchased with a $100,000 grant from the Federal Government. 

Dr Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, said: “This collection of portraits by Hilda Rix Nicholas holds national significance as the only known surviving portraits of soldiers created by a leading Australian female artist during and in direct response to the First World War.” 

"The acquisition is particularly significant in light of this year’s commemorations of the ANZAC Centenary and underpins the mission of the Australian War Memorial to commemorate the Australian experience of war."

Hilda Rix Nicholas, herself a war widow, was alone among her female peers in exploring themes of grief and war via such a sustained body of work, says the AWM.

She was working as an artist in France when war broke out in 1914, and was evacuated to London.

Her husband, Major George Matson Nicholas DSO, was killed in action at the Battle of Flers in the Somme in November 1916, only weeks after the couple married. The artist also lost both her mother and sister to enteric fever.

Hilda Rix Nicholas returned to Australia in 1918, setting up a studio in Sydney where she made drawings of soldiers who'd returned from the war and were yet to find employment.

As a war widow, Rix Nicholas depicted the men with what she felt was a quiet dignity,

According to the AWM, her work was initially not well received by contemporaries in the Australian arts establishment. It contrasted with the portraits of military leaders and battle scenes typically depicted by official war artists. 

Today, Hilda Rix Nicholas is acclaimed for offering "considerable insight into the personal experiences of Australians in the First World War."

The Hilda Rix Nicholas collection is available to view on the Australian War Memorial websiteThe $100,000 grant from the National Cultural Heritage Account was announced by Australia's Minister for the Arts, George Brandis QC. 

Information & images courtesy of the Australian War Memorial © ART96807

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News