1 June, 10.00am – 1.00pm

This Symposium takes as its theme the early experiences of artist Hilda Rix Nicholas to explore the international engagement of Australian female artists with the modern world. Guest lecturers include curators and academics Professor Jeanette Hoorn, Associate Professor Joanna Mendelssohn, Elena Taylor and Professor Catherine Speck.

In the early decades of the 20th century women experienced rights, freedoms and opportunities which were previously inconceivable. They could pursue a professional career as an artist through study in Paris, were free to travel unchaperoned to foreign destinations to picture the Orient and through the advent of WW1, became involved in both personal and official artistic responses to the horrors of that time. This Symposium brings together three different perspectives on the artistic achievements of the modern woman.


‘I who so alone, painted out my heart in those big canvases’ (Hilda Rix Nicholas)
Women, war and art
Presented by Professor Catherine Speck, University of Adelaide

At the time of the First World War, numerous Australian artists were working as expatriates in the cosmopolitan centres of Paris or London pursuing modern style, while just a few were doing the same from their base in Sydney. The war impacted on their lives and careers in various ways, with many of the expatriate male artists in London eventually appointed official war artists. This talk will look at the Australian women artists’ engagement with the wartime life and its anxieties from the home-fronts of Paris, London and Sydney. The artists whose work will be discussed include Hilda Rix Nicholas, Margaret Preston, Dora Meeson, Evelyn Chapman and Grace Cossington Smith.


‘The dream of Paris life…’ female Australian artists in Paris 1905-1915
Presented by Elena Taylor, Curator Australian Art, National Gallery of Victoria

During the first decade of the twentieth century unprecedented numbers of women artists from around the world flocked to Paris to study and to establish professional careers. This talk will look at the many Australian women, including Hilda Rix Nicholas, Margaret Preston, Bessie Davidson and Kathleen O’Connor who were in Paris during these vital years and place their experiences within a broader context of female Anglo-American expatriatism. Why did these women choose Paris, what did it offer them, and how did they respond to the great changes in art taking place around them?

11.30 Morning Tea


Moroccan Idyll: Hilda Rix Nicholas in Tangier
Presented by Jeanette Hoorn, Professor of Visual Cultures and Director of Gender Studies in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne

Hilda Rix Nicholas was among the first Australian artists to paint in a post-impressionist style. Studying in a number of Parisian ateliers in the years immediately preceding the First World War she also painted in Tangier during two visits to Morocco in 1912 and 1914. Staying at the Hotel Villa de France over precisely the same period as Henry Matisse, she worked from the same models and painted some of the same scenes as Matisse. She and her sister wrote a detailed and lively correspondence to their mother in London revealing a great deal about their attitudes of those of the day to Morocco, Orientalism and the modernist movement itself. Professor Hoorn will present an account of Nicholas’ time in Tangier.


Re-discovering Hilda
Presented by Associate Professor Joanna Mendelssohn, Program Director, Art Administration, School of Art History and Art Education, NIEA

In 1975 a painting by Hilda Rix Nicholas was included in Australian Women Artists, One Hundred Years 1840 – 1940, the national touring exhibition for International Women’s Year. When he saw the exhibition in Sydney, Rix Wright was concerned to read of his mother summarised with other expatriate women artists living in Paris . He contacted the curatorial staff at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and subsequently invited both Joanna Mendelssohn and Nicholas Draffin to visit Knockalong the family property in the Monaro and see the depth and range of her work. This paper discusses what we found at Knockalong, and the subsequent first scholarly presentation of her oeuvre at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.

Panel discussion and questions

Where: Grand Hall, Mosman Art Gallery
Cost: $25, $20 Friends of Mosman Art Gallery. Includes morning tea

Sunday 1 June 10:00 am to 1:00 pm