Norman Lindsay (1879 – 1969) considered to be Australia’s most iconic and controversial artist. The son of Robert Lindsay (1843 – 1915) an Anglo-Irish surgeon from Derry in Northern Ireland. Norman was a painter, etcher, sculptor, novelist, pen-draughtsman, maker of ship models and a cartoonist. He also liked boxing, horse riding and playing the piano.
Norman was a prolific Australian artist, known as ‘Naughty Norman’. He attracted both acclaim and controversy for his works, some of which were deemed blasphemous and were removed from exhibitions. He created a huge furor by painting pubic hair on his nudes, that aside he was a fabulous artist but got more attention for the illustrations in his children’s book ‘The Magic Pudding’ than for his paintings.
The Magic Pudding – By Norman Lindsay (1918).
Nude on Gold Cloth by Norman Lindsay.
Watercolour on paper, signed ‘Norman Lindsay’ lower centre, 43.5 X 30 Centimeters. Sold at auction 2013 for AU$40,000 (Hammer Price).
Sir William Orpen assisted in arranging an Australian Art exhibition at London’s Royal Academy in 1923 which included works by Norman Lindsay. The visitors included Sir John and Lady Lavery. Customs initially seized the collection due to their sensual nature but later released them for the exhibition. This no doubt gave the works more publicity than they might otherwise have received. Orpen was not too keen on Lindsay’s paintings and suggested “he has no art”. This comment and those of other critics led to a flurry of publicity with many articles appearing in the British and Australian media.
Belfast Telegraph – Thursday 11th October 1923, page 7.
Extract from above article: – “What will be London’s verdict on the astounding drawings of the Australian artist, Norman Lindsay, exhibited on the respectable walls of of the Royal Academy? Those that will arouse a storm of discussion and probably vehement protest in certain quarters are entitled, ‘Scherzo’ (see catalogue page below), ‘The Terrace’, ‘Man’s Heaven’, Beethoven’ and ‘Battle’, states the Daily Express……………”.
Catalogue cover and pages from The exhibition of Australian Art in London 1923.
‘To the poetry of Hugh McCrea’ (see note below).
‘The Song’s End’.
Artists at Variance:
Westminster Gazette – Thursday 24th January 1924, page 4.
Extract from newspaper cutting above: – Sir William Orpen described Mr. Norman Lindsay’s work as ‘certainly vulgar’ though not indecent and said that the eminent Australian artist’s pictures were extremely badly drawn and show no sense of design and a total lack of imagination”.
Lindsay’s reply to Orpen:
Extract from Lindsay’s reply to Orpen: – “The terms of Orpen’s attack may fall suitably under the heading of bad manners, but hardly under that of serious criticism. Nervertheless, this queer outburst of rancour is interesting, since it is certainly an exposure of Orpen’s state of mind, if it fails to reveal any particular value in aesthetics. To me, it is a confession of “innocence”, in the psycho-analytic sense of the patient’s inability to collate a conscious utterance with its sub-conscious exposure…….”.
A much-abused Artist – Belfast Telegraph 13th Oct 1923.
Extract from the above newspaper cutting: –
William Orpen was quoted saying “He has no art”. The writer suggests “but the Gentlemen who follow Sir William Orpen’s lead and say he has no art should, if necessary, purchase it, even though the market price be ten guineas………” (referring to ‘Petronius’ a book by Lindsay , see two images below).
Images from ‘Petronius’ by Norman Lindsay.
Another critic compares Norman Lindsay with Aubrey Beardsley* – To which the author responds – “Nothing could be more different than the delicate effeminate pattern-weaving of Beardsley and the bold conception of Norman Lindsay. Only in their choice of sensuous subjects may they be named together”.
The following year 1924 – Lindsay’s exhibition banned in Australia.
Westminster Gazette – Wed 16th July 1924, page 7.
Extract from the above paper: – “The Society of Arts here has given frank expression to its opinion of the work of Norman Lindsay, by rejecting from its exhibition “Artists’ Week” his pictures, ‘Funeral March of Don Juan’, the ‘Apex of Life’ and ‘Festival’…….”.
Norman was well able to criticise other painters himself. He first viewed Post-Impressionist paintings while visiting Paris and he was not impressed -“a mob of modern Hottentots”, he became a committed opponent of modern art.
Lindsay’s works were initially expensive then nose-dived to the point where big oils sold for AU$100 or so. Now they’re back in fashion and selling for hundreds of thousands. In 2002 the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne paid AU$333,900 for the painting ‘Spring’s Innocence’.
‘Spring’s Innocence’ by Norman Lindsay (1937) Oil on canvas – 66.8 x 92.5 Centimeters.
Photo of Norman Lindsay by Max Dupain (NGA).
Norman was one of ten children, five of whom were artists. His brother, Darryl Lindsay was quite a gifted painter though he didn’t load his work down with luscious nudes in the way Norman did.
In April 1930, Faber published Norman’s novel ‘Redheap’ in London but the Australian government banned it and all 16,000 copies were returned to London. The ban was finally lifted in 1959. He also wrote Halfway to Anywhere, Age of Consent, The Cautious Amorist, Cousin from Fiji and Saturdee.
One of Norman’s sons, Philip, came to England in the late 20’s and wrote film scripts for Sir Alexander Korda the Hungarian-born British film producer, director and screenwriter. His brother, Reginald had been killed in WW1 on the Somme in 1917.
In 1940 Norman Lindsay sent sixteen crates of his works to America for safe keeping during the war but they were destroyed in a fire.
Link to a trailer from ‘Sirens’ a movie about Norman Lindsay staring Hugh Grant, Tara Fitzgerald, Sam Neil & Elle Macpherson. Written and Directed by John Duigan.
Nude statue by Norman Lindsay at the Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum, Faulconbridge, New South Wales, Australia (now a gallery).
In the recent fires it came close to being burnt down. They had moved all the pictures away. Luckily the house was saved, though the fire got pretty close.
*Aubrey Vincent Beardsley ( 1872 – 1898) was an English illustrator and author and a close friend of Oscar Wilde. In 1892 Aubrey attended classes at the Westminster School of Art, then under Professor Fred Brown who coincidentally also thought William Orpen at the Slade Art School, London. Harry Clarke, the Irish Stained Glass artist was heavily influenced by Beardsley’s work. Clarke was also a student of William Orpen at the Metropolitan Art School Dublin (now NCAD).
*Hugh McCrae, whose first book of poems, ‘Satyrs and Sunlight’ (1909), was illustrated by Norman Lindsay.
Post by Dominic Lee.