Ballarat, Victoria, Australia 1884 – Delegate, New South Wales, Australia 1961
In the fields by the sea
Pointe de Penmarch, Finistère, Brittany, France
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas
Hilda Rix Nicholas painted In the fields by the sea while working in her studio in the artists’ colony of Etaples in Picardy during the summers of 1910–14, before the beginning of the First World War. It is one of several images of French country people wearing traditional costume that she painted at this time. Like a number of other contemporary artists, she provided an alternative image of women to the elegant portraits of ladies used as emblems of their husbands’ wealth and power; she showed them as resolute, independent women with a presence.
Like her subjects, Rix Nicholas was a capable woman; she sought equal standing in the artistic hierarchy. She travelled with her family in Europe in 1907–18, where she continued her studies in art and established herself as an accomplished artist. In much of her work she captured the nostalgic reverence for the ‘purity’ of rural life. She drew on a specific type to comment about the value of country life, as she was later to do in her images of confident women on horseback in rural Australia.
In 1919, Rix Nicholas showed In the fields by the sea (Brittany) in her controversial Sydney exhibition. Grace Cossington Smith viewed the exhibition and commented:
I went to see it three or four times … the most astonishing thing was the [feeling of] life in them … A French critic says “the artist has the peculiar gift of expressing the spiritual character of the subject” – that was just it – Portraits & studies of people are usually just dull sort of wooden things, but these had a funny way of ‘getting hold of you’.1
1Grace Cossington Smith, letter to Mrs Cunningham, 10 August 1919, Letters to the Cunningham family, National Library of Australia
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002