Creswick District Development Association

Norman Lindsay

Norman Norman Lindsay was unquestionably the most outstanding member of this talented family. Until he was about 6 his mother insisted on him remaining indoors because strenuous physical activity, as a result of a blood disorder, brought on a blistering rash. Thus confined, he taught himself to draw by copying illustrations from periodicals and by drawing about the home from life. Throughout his long life he continued to draw, paint and write. As principal cartoonist at the Bulletin newspaper for over 50 years his depictions of the current issues of the day illustrated Australia's changing social attitudes. Controversy surrounded him as he defended his right to paint the nude – a subject hardly unusual in European art. He wrote novels and children's books, including the classic The Magic Pudding. For relaxation he made carefully studied ship models as well as garden sculpture. But it is his technical mastery of various artistic media – pen drawings, etchings, watercolours and oil painting – which showed the range and force of his imagination and his brilliance.

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.

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.

Lindsay wrote the children's classic The Magic Pudding and created a scandal when his novel Redheap (supposedly based on the town of his birth, Creswick) was banned due to censorship laws. Many of his novels have a frankness and vitality that matches his art.

Lindsay also worked as an editorial cartoonist, notably for The Bulletin. Despite his enthusiasm for erotica, he shared the racist and right-wing political leanings that dominated The Bulletin at that time; the "Red Menace" and "Yellow Peril" were popular themes in his cartoons. These views occasionally spilled over into his other work, and modern editions of The Magic Pudding often omit one couplet in which "you unmitigated Jew" is used as an insult

Lindsay's creative output was vast, his energy enormous. Several eyewitness accounts tell of his working practices in the 1920's. He would wake early and produce a watercolour before breakfast, then by mid-morning he would be in his etching studio where he would work until late afternoon. He would work on a concrete sculpture in the garden during the afternoon and in the evening write a new chapter for whatever novel he was working on at the time. As a break, he would work on a model ship some days.

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.

He died in 1969.

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