Birthday: February 22, 1879
Died At Age: 90
Sun Sign: Pisces
Also Known As: Norman Alfred William Lindsay
Born in: Creswick
Famous as: Artist
Spouse/Ex-: Catherine Agatha Parkinson, Rose Soady
father: Robert Charles William Alexander Lindsay
mother: Jane Elizabeth Lindsay
siblings: Daryl Lindsay, Lionel Lindsay, Percy Lindsay, Ruby Lindsay
children: Helen Lindsay, Jack Lindsay, Jane Lindsay, Philip Lindsay, Raymond Lindsay
Died on: November 21, 1969
place of death: Sydney
education: University of Queensland
Who was Norman Lindsay?
A man of myriad talents, Norman Lindsay was an Australian artist, etcher, sculptor, writer, illustrator, scale modeler, and amateur boxer. Dismissed by critics many times for his controversial subjects and nudes, he is now regarded as one of Australia's greatest artists. His works span numerous media that include pen drawings, etching, oil paintings, woodcuts, sculptures, editorials, and publishing. His affinity for the arts began to take shape at a very young age and his interests grew with him. He gained a more formal training and better experience to churn out works of incredible depth and technical prowess. His tremendous creative energy enabled him to work on multiple projects at a time. Through his work, he challenged many societal norms and invited the ire of many critics leading to many of his works being banned. Despite this, he was the highest paid Australian artist of the time. His literary works such as ‘Age of Consent’, ‘Halfway to Anywhere’, and ‘Dust or Polish’ have been adapted to the silver screen. Lindsay was not the only member of his family to dabble in the arts. His brothers, Percy, Lionel, and Ernest, sister Ruby, sons, Jack, Philip, and Raymond were all involved in the arts and inspired each other’s works.
Childhood & Early Life
Norman Alfred William Lindsay was born on 22 February 1879, in Creswick, Victoria, to Robert Charles William Alexander Lindsay and Jane Elizabeth Lindsay. His father was a surgeon.
He was one among 10 siblings (6 boys, 4 girls). Notable among his siblings were Percival “Percy” Charles, Sir Lionel Arthur, Ruby, and Sir Ernest Daryl, who all went on to achieve similar artistic success.
Norman began drawing to keep himself occupied when a blood disorder forced him to remain indoors. Regular visits to the Ballarat Fine Arts Public Gallery with his grandfather fueled his interests further and in 1893, he joined Walter Withers’ outdoor painting classes.
He received his education from Creswick Grammar School. He was part of the editorial team of its unofficial magazine, ‘Boomerang’.
His brother Lionel advised him to take drawing classes at the National Gallery School in 1895. Norman then moved to Melbourne and worked as an illustrator for ‘Hawklet’, a weekly publication.
By 1897, he was living with his brothers in Charterisville, near Heidelberg with Lionel teaching him to etch. He later attended life drawing classes by George Coates in Melbourne.
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Norman Lindsay’s career began at the age of 16. He worked as a ghost illustrator for his brother Lionel at the ‘Hawklet’. Of the 35 shillings Lionel received per week, he gave 10 to Norman. Norman later became a cartoonist and illustrator at ‘Hawklet’.
During his Charterisville stay, he began pen-and-ink illustrations inspired by the garden and created ‘The Idylls of Theocritus’ and ‘The Decameron’ drawings.
He established a weekly called ‘Rambler’ with his friend and later brother-in-law, journalist Ray Parkinson, in 1899. Financed by John Elkington, the weekly published jokes, theatre gossip, and drama reviews, but failed after a few issues.
The death of Ernest Moffitt, a longtime friend and influence led him to create ‘A Consideration of the Art of Ernest Moffitt’ in 1899 that displayed his Arcadian symbolism and decorative use of the nude.
His ‘Decameron’ drawings, in 1900, earned a positive review from Alfred George Stephens, a critic at the ‘Bulletin’. Journalist Jules François Archibald even requested him to provide illustrations for the paper. Norman joined the ‘Bulletin’ as a staff artist for £6 a week. Barring a few breaks, his association with the publication lasted over fifty years.
On the creative front, in his drawings, he focused more on light and color. His subjects often attacked society’s attitudes which, though earned him technical merit, were heavily criticized. Some of these works include: ‘The Scoffers’ (1903), ‘Pollice Verso’ (1904), and ‘Dionysus’ (1905). In 1906, he began a series of 100 illustrations for ‘Memoirs of Casanova’.
Lionel and Sir Frank Fox, assistant editor of the ‘Bulletin’, started a monthly publication called the ‘Lone Hand’. It ran from 1907 to 1921 and featured many of Lindsay’s drawings, stories, and articles.
After successful exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne, he travelled to Pompeii in 1909 and began sketches for the ‘Satyricon’. The following year the Satyricon of Petronius was published with 100 illustrations.
In 1912, he displayed his earliest oil paintings at an exhibition by the ‘Society of Artists’. He caused some controversy with his ‘Crucified Venus’ painting that depicted a tonsured monk nailing a naked woman to a tree with clerics and wowsers cheering on.
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His prolific writing turned into his first novel, ‘A Curate in Bohemia’, which was a memoir of his life in Melbourne and was published in 1913.
His first children’s book, ‘The Magic Pudding’, was published in 1918. It was conceived to prove an argument he had with his friend Bertram Stevens. Stevens had said that children liked to read about fairies and he said they liked to read about food.
His work roused controversy again in 1923 when he exhibited them at the ‘Society of Artists Exhibition’ in London. The harshest critique came from the person he admired, Sir William Orpen, who criticized it as a work that lacked technique and art.
He was a close associate and friend of many poets such as Robert FitzGerald, Kenneth Slessor, and Douglas Stewart. He even illustrated some of their poems including Slessor's ‘Thief of the Moon’ (1924) and ‘Earth-Visitors’ (1926).
In 1930, his novel ‘Redheap’ was banned from entering Australia due to censorship laws. The novel, based on his early life in Creswick, was published in the USA under the title “Every Mother's Son” and was also available in London.
His last etching, ‘Visitors to Hell’ was published in 1938. Some of his published works include ‘Age of Consent’ (1935), ‘Cousin from Fiji’ (1945), ‘Halfway to Anywhere’ (1947), ‘Dust or Polish’ (1950), and ‘Rooms and Houses’.
One of his famous books is ‘The Magic Pudding’ written in 1917. Still in print, the book has been translated into Japanese, German, French, and Spanish. His only other children’s book is ‘Flyaway Highway’ which was published in 1936.
His novel, ‘Redheap’ portraying life in the country was banned for 28 years due to censorship laws. Today, however, it is regarded as one of the great Australian classics.
Awards & Achievements
His former home at Faulconbridge has been converted into the “Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum” and is run by the National Trust. His art still attracts many collectors and art enthusiasts.
Personal Life & Legacy
On March 23, 1900, Norman Lindsay married Kathleen Agatha Parkinson, sister of his journalist friend Ray Parkinson. The couple had three sons, namely, Jack, Raymond and Philip. His career and drive for the arts could not save his failing marriage and the couple divorced in 1918.
He married Rose Soady, a model, in 1920. The couple had two daughters; Jane and Helen.
Norman Lindsay passed away on 21 November 1969, at the age of 90 in Springwood and was buried in Springwood Cemetery. His son Jack and two daughters were his surviving children as his other sons had predeceased him.