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AWM acquires Hilda Rix Nicholas works

Rare acquisition joins the Australian War Memorial collection, Office for the Arts, 9 July 2024

Twenty-nine unframed drawings created in 1917 to depict the ‘Pageant of the Southern Cross’ by Australian artist Hilda Rix Nicholas have been acquired.

The Australian War Memorial (AWM) has secured an extraordinary collection of artworks with funding assistance from the National Cultural Heritage Account.

Rix Nicholas’ works offer a unique glimpse into an event that captured the spirit of Australia and New Zealand during World War I (WWI).

The drawings depict costumes designed for the Grand Matinee held at the Victoria Palace in 1917, a significant fundraising event for Australian and New Zealand soldiers stationed on the Western Front during WWI.

The Grand Matinee featured songs, dramatic performances, and comedic acts, with the ‘Pageant of the Southern Cross’ written by Henrietta Leslie as its centerpiece. Over 80 performers wore costumes representing their nations, with additional designs depicting regional flora, fauna and other icons.

There are few surviving records of the pageant and the only known colour images are the twenty-nine costume designs by Rix Nicholas, demonstrating her inventive approach to dressing performers in varying designs. These ambitious works offer a rare glimpse into wartime national identity.

With this recent acquisition, the AWM now boasts the largest collection of wartime works by Rix Nicholas in the country, solidifying her legacy in the realm of Australian art history.

The National Cultural Heritage Account provides support for Australian cultural organisations to acquire important pieces of Australian history to ensure they are kept in the country and enjoyed by the public. Organisations can apply for funding at any time.