Norman Alfred Williams Lindsay (1879-1969) is arguably one of Australia’s greatest artists. He worked in all media – etching, pencil, charcoal, pen and ink, wash, woodcut, lithograph, watercolour and oil as well as producing many sculptures, both indoor and for the garden. There are more books on Norman Lindsay, about Norman Lindsay or illustrated by Norman Lindsay than any other Australian artist.
Lindsay was the son of Anglo-Irish surgeon Robert Charles William Alexander Lindsay (1843–1915) and Jane Elizabeth Lindsay (1848–1932), daughter of Rev. Thomas Williams, Wesleyen missionary. from Creswick. The fifth of ten children, he was the brother of(1870–1952), (1874–1961), (1885–1919), and (1889–1976).
Until he was about 6 his mother insisted on him remaining indoors because strenuous physical activity, as a result of a blood disorder, brought on a blistering rash. Thus confined, he taught himself to draw by copying illustrations from periodicals and by drawing about the home from life. In April 1896 Lionel began working for the Free Lance, modelled on the Sydney Bulletin. After some maternal opposition Norman joined him in Melbourne to ghost drawings for him on the Hawklet. Lionel was paid £2 a week by the Free Lance and thirty-five shillings a week by the Hawklet of which he gave Norman ten shillings for his work.
His most controversial work was ‘Crucified Venus’, depicting a tonsured monk nailing a naked woman to a tree, to the approval of a mob of exultant clerics and wowsers below. When shown in the All Australian Exhibition, Melbourne, in September 1913, it so outraged opinion that the management committee removed it. Only when Ashton threatened to withdraw all work from New South Wales was it rehung. Lindsay’s diversity was extending to writing. He had been publishing stories in the Lone Hand since 1907, and in 1913 his first novel, A Curate in Bohemia, which was based on memories of his Melbourne years, was published.
Master of a good prose style, Lindsay wrote lucidly and generously about the art he admired. But his taste did not extend beyond Post-Impressionism, and he became in his later years a virulent opponent of modernism, expressing his sense of outrage in Addled Art (1942).
Throughout World War I his views were at one with Bulletin policy and in 1918 he drew posters for Australia’s last recruiting drive. The war cartoons invariably presented Germans as monsters of depravity, the allies as the children of light.
Some of his works were banned but for all the artistic freedom he displayed, his stunning pictures did not translate into wider thinking and reason. Lindsay was a sexist, racist and elistist.
He believed the creative mind, especially the masculine, existed apart from the mass mind which, essentially feminine, constantly attacked it with the aid of such lesser breeds as Jews, Asians and Africans. Modernist art and the war were but the most recent manifestations of these unending attacks upon the creative elite. Once formulated, Lindsay’s views changed little.
In 1934 Lindsay entered a period of depression—his hunchback phase he called it—when creative work seemed impossible. To recapture his energy he left Springwood in 1934 and rented a studio at 12 Bridge Street, Sydney. Here he began to paint constantly in oils for the first time, working continuously from the model. His studio became a kind of art and literary salon visited by old and new friends, the latter including the writers, (‘Brian James’) and Stewart. However, most of the new generation of artists and writers who began to exhibit and publish in the late 1930s and had come under the influence of modernism found Lindsay’s art and writing old fashioned and its philosophy, so strongly tainted with anti-Semitism, sinister.
Lindsay’s house is in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia. It is open to the public.
The Lindsay house at Springwood
Photo of Norman Lindsay with Beethoven’s Death Mask.
Lindsay’s recruiting posters
His last fountain made when he was 89. The film Sirens was made about part of his life.