Academic journal article Hecate

Women and Men and Public Space: Hilda Rix Nicholas and Henri Matisse in Morocco

Academic journal article Hecate

Women and Men and Public Space: Hilda Rix Nicholas and Henri Matisse in Morocco

Article excerpt

Oh how you would have loved being with me Today in the big Soko ... camels with their humps discretely covered by decorative striped rugs & straw mats & baskets gaily draped Horses and mules, with gay trappings -patient wee gray donkeys bearing huge bundles & baskets filled with charcoal, which was held compact within twigs of green & a primitive net of string.

I squeezed my way beneath this seething mass of animals & human beings -& dodging bumps and jostlings as much as possible proceeded to workwhile

a merry interested crowd grew behind me, I put into my foreground one of the many women who, like any of the other beasts of burden, had tramped fifteen miles bearing a heavy load on her back -

She wore scant attire made of a series of towels, her face all but the eyes bound and veiled-her legs were encased in primitive leather gaiters-&, which is rare to see, the heels of her shoes were turned up, because she had passed through boggy country coming from inland to this sea port city. I got her in my sketch before the teasing crowd had succeeded in making her understand what I was about, hurrah!-Then I slipped away, and got lost in the gaily coloured multitude.

(Hilda Rix, in a letter to Elizabeth and Elsie Rix)1

Au Maroc

In the last days of January 1912, the Australian artist Hilda Rix set out from Paris on a painting expedition to Spain and Morocco. She travelled in a party with the American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner, who had previously shared a studio with Australian artists Hugh Ramsay, James Macdonald and Ambrose Patterson in Montparnasse (Fullerton).

The party left Paris in the last week of January, travelling first to Madrid, where they spent four days taking in the sights, before travelling to Toledo and then on to Cordoba and Algeciras. Rix adored the Prado in Madrid, and sent her mother Elizabeth and sister Elsie a postcard of a detail of Velázquez's Los borrachos (1628-29). On it she scribbled "saw this magnificent thing Jan 30th 12." She was struck by the colour of the flesh, the magnificent texture, the freedom of the composition and by Velázquez's "convincing realness." Hilda had seen a copy of the painting by an Australian colleague in Emmanuel Phillips Fox's studio before she left Paris, and she added, "Mr Fox's copy of this picture is a very good one." Velázquez was her hero, and she went on to note, "Titian, Veronese and Rubens all look hollow and monotonous beside him."2

Henri Matisse set sail from Marseilles at roughly the same time as the Rix-Tanner party. He travelled with his wife, Amélie Noellie Parayre. Despite Matisse's efforts to convince friends to join Amélie and himself, the two set out à deux. On board the SS Ridjani Henri Matisse wrote to his daughter Marguerite on Monday 29 January, "We have had a quiet crossing, we have eaten well, slept well." He further reported: "On a slightly rough sea, but of the purest blue, the ship glides, without rocking or pitching ... We are arriving at Tangier much earlier than we thought we would, considering the state of the sea."

When her party arrived in Tangier on 5 February, Hilda could not contain her excitement in a letter to her mother and sister:

We are really truly hereV.l And oh oh oh oh it is wonderful! So much like an extraordinarily beautiful dream that Im afraid to wake up in the morning & find it all gone. Oh it is impossible to give you the faintest impression of it all for it is more splendid than I thought a great great deal. (5 February 1912)

Hilda recovered after some momentary discomfort made bearable by the assistance of Jessie Tanner (Mrs J), recounting in her letter the scenes she encountered on her way from the landing place to the Hôtel Villa de France, then famous for being the finest accommodation Tangier had to offer:

Oh my dears if only I could give you an idea of everything here -we came up from the boat with our luggage loaded on donkey back and we passed slowly up hill through crowded streets full of wonderful people-up & up past queer little cubby hole shops, under quaint arches to the foot of the open hill called the soko where, joy for us, the big market was in full swing. …

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