Ballarat, Victoria, Australia 1884 – Delegate, New South Wales, Australia 1961
Montmartre, Paris, Île-de-France, Ville de Paris department, France
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas mounted on cardboard
Born in Ballarat in 1884, Hilda Rix Nicholas was one of Australia’s most significant women artists during the early 1900s. While working abroad from 1907 to 1918, she painted portraits and depicted people in the streets and gardens of Étaples in Paris and views of daily activity in Tangier. Following her return to Australia she painted images of Australian rural life and landscape. Snow, Montmartre c 1914 is one of her boldest and most joyous landscapes. Painted in Montmartre just before the First World War, it is an urban scene, capturing the cold northern light on snow. It is most likely the view from Rix Nicholas’s studio window as she is unlikely to have ventured outside in the cold to paint such a scene. The low viewpoint suggests she painted it sitting down. Unlike so many of her other works, it is unpeopled—it is a pure image of light, the interplay of sunshine and shadow on the surface of the snow, and conveys some of the feel of a wintry day in Paris. It is constructed with strong forms: the horizontals of the buildings and fence contrast with the diagonals of the roofs and the tapestry–like pattern of the trees. She painted it expressively, using energetic brushstrokes and vibrant colour: blues, creams, browns and greens.
Rix Nicholas probably painted this work around 1914—the artist was in France from 1907 to 1914 and the subject is a French one. The high key palette, free handling of paint and bold composition is similar to those she adopted in 1912 and 1914 for her Moroccan pictures. When Rix Nicholas moved to England at the end of 1914 she depicted a house and garden in Kent using a bright palette of reds and yellows as well as blues and purples. Snow, Montmartre captures a time before tragedy struck Rix Nicholas. At the start of the war, her mother and sister (with whom she lived) contracted typhoid. Her sister died soon after but her mother lived for a few more years, until 1916. Six months after her mother’s death, she married Major George Matson Nicholas. After a brief honeymoon he returned to the front and was killed in action a month after their wedding.
When she came back to Australia in 1918, Rix Nicholas received critical acclaim for the range and versatility of her work. Renewed by her return, she reformulated her approach to art, exchanging her European imagery for nationalistic images of Australian country life. She visited Britain and France in 1924–26, and painted Breton subjects. She continued to exhibit her work throughout the 1930s and 1940s, but failing eyesight and ill health limited her output during the 1950s. She died in 1961 at the age of 76. Hilda Rix Nicholas gained a place among contemporary Australian artists through the power and strength of her imagery.
Head of Australian art
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Hilda Rix Nicholas lived and worked abroad from 1907, producing a strong group of figure studies and street scenes in cities from Paris to Tangier.
The urban scene in Snow, Montmartre is likely a view from Rix Nicholas’s Paris studio. She exploits the formal potential of the scene’s intersecting rooftops, flattening the picture plane and emphasising strong, simplified shapes. Her crisp, luminous, cool palette conveys the stillness of winter, with long blue shadows emphasising the cold European light.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2013
From: Miriam kelly, Capital & Country: The Federation Years 1900 – 1913, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2013