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More Norman Lindsay Biographical Notes...
Lindsay was born in 1879 in Victoria, Australia. He was born a year after
New Zealander Harry Rountree and within a year of Walter Everett, W.
Russell Flint, Charles Folkard, Herbert Paus, C. Coles Phillips, Henry
Raleigh, and Sarah Stilwell. A childhood malady forced inactivity, so
he used the time to teach himself how to draw. The teacher found an apt
and willing pupil and by age eleven he was capable of renderings such
as the cat at right. There must have been something in the water as two
of his older brothers were artists (as was one of the younger ones and
also one of his sisters).
In 1895, Lindsay moved to Melbourne to work on a local magazine with his older brother Lionel. In 1901, he and Lionel joined the staff of the Sydney Bulletin, a weekly newspaper, magazine and review. There they drew caricatures, cartoons and illustrations on demand - often in a style nearly indistinguishable from each other. That's Norman on the left and Lionel on the right - both from 1903's Our New Selection. Norman's association with and contributions to the magazine would last over fifty years.
Rose Soady began modeling for Norman in 1902. She would become his second wife, his most recognizeable model, his business manager, and the printer for most of his etchings. By the time he left for London in 1909, Rose had supplanted his wife and it was she who joined him there in 1910. An inveterate sketcher, he filled volumes with pencil drawings of the trip. Many are found in Norman Lindsay Impulse to Draw currently available from Bud Plant Comic Art. Satyrs and Sunlight, a book of poems by Hugh McCrae with illustrations by NL was published in 1909.
He returned to Melbourne the following year having had his 100 drawings for The Satyricon of Petronious Arbiter published in London in a limited edition. The book would be reprinted in a two volume set in 1922 (with about half the illustrations) and the drawings used again as the 100 plates in the 1927 The Complete Works of Gaius Petronious.
In 1912 he moved to Springwood in the Blue Mountain region of New
South Wales. Except for a short hiatus in the late 30's, he would
live there until he died. If you've seen the movie, Sirens, you've
seen the actual house and grounds. It's now The Norman Lindsay Gallery
and Museum and is open to the public. Lindsay created cement statuary,
carved and decorated the furniture, designed and built chairs and
most of all he drew. One of his pen drawings, The Crucified Venus,
actually did create the stir depicted in the film and was even removed
from a Melbourne art show until the president of the Society of Artists
threatened to remove ALL the paintings from the exhibit unless Lindsay's
drawing was reinstated. It was.
In 1925 Jack Lindsay, Norman's son from his first marriage, started The Fanfrolico Press and in the space of six years published 40 books. Many of these were illustrated by NL. The editions were often limited, though few were signed and those mostly by Jack. Among the titles were: Lysistrata (both an Australian and British edition), Hyperborea and Madam Life's Lovers (both written by Norman), The Complete Works of Gaius Petronius (with 100 pen drawings by NL), Ecclesiazusai (Women in Parliment), Earth Visitors, The Antichrist of Nietzsche, and more. The depression, lack of good business sense and a falling out with Rose combined to end the venture.
Lindsay had experimented with etchings as early as 1906, but it wasn't until 1919 that he perused the medium in ernest. He produced five plates for Leon Gellert's epic poem, The Isle of San. Several books with etchings as illustration followed: Creative Effort and Colombine (1920), Idyllia (1922),and the legendary Etchings of Norman Lindsay (1927) and A Homage to Sappho (1928). There is so much to be amazed about in Lindsay's etchings, not the least being that they exist at all. When I read the chapter in The Complete Etchings of Norman Lindsay on how an etching is created, I was aghast. The time, effort and stress seemed to me to be inhuman. Also quite flabbergasting was the fact that after he had created a suitable plate, Lindsay totally lost interest in it. It was up to Rose to record the states and actually print the edition. When I discovered that he had done 375 etchings in his remarkable life, I simply was stunned. Then I looked at the dates of the etchings and realized that he had done them all in the space of 30 years! All but 25 were done between 1917 and 1938. That's an etching every 23 days! Get a copy of The Complete Etchings from Bud Plant Comic Art. You won't regret it and you'll learn a lot if you take the time to read it.
And, of course, he wasn't just doing etchings. His water colours range from elaborately staged statements like The Suitors to adventure illustrations like Through the Savannahs. Gloriously detailed studies like seated nude with fan made his work extremely popular in the exhibits and galleries. They also made stunning magazine illustrations for his occasional venture there. I can't seem to recall any Lindsay colorplate books other than Norman Lindsay's Water Colours and Norman Lindsay's Oil Paintings.
Lindsay's approach to oil painting seems very classical. I haven't seen much other than his very scarce Oil Paintings book. The images above are from a postcard Karen got me when she visited his Gallery/Museum in Australia and from the cover of a catalog for an exhibition.
Throughout his life, Lindsay seems to have been driven by the creative process. When, in 1940, Rose took 16 crates of paintings, drawings and etchings to the U.S. to protect them from the nascent war, only to have them destroyed in a train fire, his reaction was basically, "don't worry, I'll do more." And he did. The act of creating seems to have been more important than the creation.
In addition to his paintings, etchings, pen drawings and sculpting, he wrote Age of Consent, The Cautious Amorist, Cousin From Fiji, Halfway to Anywhere, Redheap, Saturdee, and I sure I'm forgetting some others. An exhibition of his published etchings was held in 1958, a book of his pen drawings was published in Australia and the U.S. in 1968, and a reprint of his Water Colour book was published in 1969.
His autobiography, My Mask, was published postumously in 1970. He died in 1969. Since then, one of my favorites, a compilation of his cat drawings, Norman Lindsay's Cats, appeared in 1975.
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