Norman Lindsay: The Artist & His Muse

In ancient Greek mythology, a Muse is said to be an inspirational goddess of the arts. When Renaissance resurrected the principles of Antiquity, the depiction of the muses once again returned, often complemented by various props or emblems. Throughout art history, there have been numerous iconic pairings of artist and muse – Emilie Louise Flöge to Gustav Klimt, Wendy Whiteley to Brett Whiteley, George Dyer to Francis Bacon, and Marie-Thérèse Walter to Pablo Picasso. Norman Lindsay so too sought inspiration from the muses – and he did have several.
Unlike many of his peers, Norman Lindsay chose to devote his art to the figural. His approach was somewhat Bohemian, concocting a fantasy world filled with erotic beauties and supernatural beings. These characters, mostly female, were often drawn from his various muses, with three of particular focus: Rose, Norman’s second wife, is seen in many paintings and etchings – most notably in the watercolours The Curtain 1921 and Where War Ends, and the oil paintings The Lute Player c.1924, and Court to Peacocks.
Rita Young (née Lee) is immortalised in many of Norman’s oil paintings such as Rita of the Nineties, Two Models and Crete as well as the beautiful watercolour portrait, Rita of the Eighties.
Pearl Goldman (nee Schweig) was another of Norman’s well-known models seen in many drawings and oil paintings such as Imperia, Amazons, Crete and Ladies from Olympus.
Our November Fine Art auction pays particular homage to Rose Lindsay (née Soady) (1885-1978). She was an artist’s model, having posed for Sydney Long, Antonio Dattilo Rubbo and Fred Leist before she met Norman Lindsay in 1902. Rose was Lindsay’s principal model, committed to him as both his muse and collaborator. Rose devoted her time at the etching press, perfecting her own printmaking skills, and managing his career whilst pursuing her own creative endeavours. Her legacy remains as possibly the most frequently painted woman in the history of Australian art.
Contemporary photographer, Anthony Browell, immortalised Rose in a portrait photograph of her in 1970. He captures the Rose is photographed standing in front of The Lute Player c.1924, for which she was the model for all three female figures depicted and features as lot 23 in our November 26th auction. Anthony describes Rose as formidable – “…a handsome, elegant lady, with a great presence and silent authority”.
Rose’s impact on Norman Lindsay’s personal and professional life cannot be undervalued. With Rose as his partner in all facets, Norman Lindsay became an artist of distinction across several disciplines. His paintings, sculptures, watercolours, cartoons and etchings became world-renowned, even inspiring books and movies. He published the novel “Age of Consent” in 1991 about an artist whose muse rekindles his love of art, and his famous children’s book “The Magic Pudding” has never been out of print since its first edition in 1918.
Lindsay is no stranger to public acclaim and criticism, yet his consistent presence in discussions of important Australian art history is a testament to his profound legacy – the proof is in the pudding, as they say…the Magic Pudding that is.