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Despite their origins in rural Victoria, the Lindsay brothers – Percy, Lionel and Norman – were renowned Sydney-based artists during the first half of the twentieth century, and left a significant legacy to the city. Their move from Melbourne to Sydney reflected the growing importance of the harbour city as the leading centre of art and publishing in Australia.
The first member of the family to move to Sydney was Norman, born in 1879, the fifth of 10 children. He began working as an illustrator in Melbourne when he was only 16 and was actively involved in Melbourne's 1890s bohemia. He arrived in Sydney in early 1901 and, after initially living in lodgings at Dawes Point, later settled in the north shore suburbs of Northwood, Lavender Bay and Artarmon.
Norman was lured to Sydney by the Bulletin editor, JF Archibald, who was impressed by the quality of his illustrations. Apart from a couple of extended breaks, Norman was a regular artist on the Bulletin up to the 1950s. Late in life, he wrote of his early years on the weekly in Bohemians of the Bulletin (1965), a book that portrays the colourful characters associated with the Bulletin, including JF Archibald and Henry Lawson.
Best known for his daring images, Norman later found fame as a painter and etcher. He was married twice, first to Katie Parkinson, and later to Rose Soady. The artist fathered five children – Jack, Ray, and Philip, from his first marriage, and Jane and Honey from his second.
Life in Springwood
In 1912, after an extended overseas trip, Norman moved to the Blue Mountains with his soon-to-be second wife, Rose Soady. He purchased an isolated 1890s stone cottage under his lover's name, renaming it Springwood. This became Norman's home for most of his long life. Norman remodelled the house by constructing a classical colonnade around the front, and further extended the classical illusion into the garden, by constructing fountains and concrete sculptures of nymphs and satyrs. Springwood became one of the best known private homes in Australia, and Norman's many guests were a veritable 'Who's Who' of the local arts world. They included names such as Dame Nellie Melba, Miles Franklin and Percy Grainger.
With early success as a black and white artist, Norman went on to master watercolour, oil and etching techniques. His often salacious images were highly sought after and made him a wealthy and controversial figure. During the 1930s and 1940s Norman also kept a studio at 12 Bridge Street, Sydney, near Circular Quay.
Modernism vs realism
By the 1930s there was major conflict on the Sydney art scene between modernist and realist artists. Despite their close relationship with the Society of Artists, the Lindsay brothers, along with many other traditionalists, perceived the society to be increasingly accepting of modernist trends in art. All three Lindsay brothers independently severed their links with the organisation in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and Norman later exhibited with the rival Royal Art Society.
During the first half of the twentieth century Norman was one of the best known and most prolific artists working in Australia. He was also a gifted writer who wrote 18 books, the best known being The Magic Pudding (1918), Redheap (1930) and Age of Consent (1938). He died at Springwood in 1969.
Other members of the Lindsay family also left a legacy to the city. Norman's children were especially noteworthy during the interwar period. Sons Jack, Ray and Philip, who were raised mainly in Brisbane, arrived in Sydney in 1921 and were soon caught up with the local bohemian art and literary scene. Their experiences of 1920s Sydney were later recounted in their various memoirs. His daughter Jane also wrote. Her literary legacy was a novel titled Kurrajong (1945) and an enlightening biography of her father's Springwood period, Portrait of Pa (1973).
Since 1973, Norman's Springwood home has been open to the public as the Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum, and remains one of the most visited house museums in the country.
Lin Bloomfield (ed), The World of Norman Lindsay, Macmillan, South Melbourne, 1979
John Hetherington, Norman Lindsay: The Embattled Olympian, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1973
Jane Lindsay, Kurrajong, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1945
Jane Lindsay, Portrait of Pa, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1973
Norman Lindsay, Bohemians of the Bulletin, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1965
Norman Lindsay, My Mask, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1970
Rose Lindsay, A Model Life: My life with Norman Lindsay, Ure Smith, Sydney, 1967
Ursula Prunster, The Legendary Lindsays, The Beagle Press, Roseville, c1995
Douglas Stewart, Norman Lindsay: A Personal Memoir, Nelson, 1975