Raymond Lindsay was the second child born to artist Norman Lindsay and his first wife Katherine Parkinson. He was most likely named after his maternal uncle who was a close friend of his father around the time of his birth. Ray, as he was known by his family and friends, spent his infancy living in Melbourne with his mother and brothers Jack and Philip. With the ending of his parents unhappy marriage, Ray’s mother relocated to Brisbane with her three young children, and it was there that he and his brothers were raised and educated. While older brother Jack was academically gifted, Ray was apparently only interested in painting during his youth. He finished his schooling near the end of the Great War and thanks to family contacts was soon working as a cadet journalist on the Brisbane Courier. Ray worked on the paper for several years until being sacked for writing a report of a council meeting which never took place.
While Ray and his brothers had been estranged from their father during most of their childhood they were reunited when they all relocated to Sydney in the early 1920s. Norman Lindsay was then at the peak of his artistic fame and Ray and his brothers were soon enchanted by his art and captivating personality. Norman encouraged his second son’s artistic ambitions and he soon enrolled at the Julian Ashton Art School (then located in the Queen Victoria Market building in Sydney). While studying at Ashton’s, Ray was inspired by the distinguished artist, George W. Lambert who briefly demonstrated figure painting at the school. Said Ray in an article for B.P. Magazine in June 1931: “Everything I know of painting I learnt from Lambert at a memorable demonstration given by the great artist on an occasion when he spent two days with the students at Ashton’s painting a portrait”
Although he had a great respect for Ashton in late life, Ray fell out with the elderly master’s teaching methods and quit the school. During the 1920s Ray lived a boozy bohemian life and associated with many of the colourful members of the Sydney art and literary scene including George Finey, Mick Paul, Elioth Gruner, Tom Hubble, Hugh McKay, Kenneth Slessor, Herman Lloyd Jones, Jack Quayle, and his uncle Percy Lindsay. Many of the highlights of these times were recalled in Philip Lindsay’s autobiography, I’d live the same life over, and Ray’s own late life 'epistle’ to his brother Jack, which was later published after his death as, A letter from Sydney.
As an artist, Lindsay first became known as a black and white artist and illustrator during the 1920s, when he worked as a contributing artist on Aussie: The Colourful Monthly and the Sydney Sunday Sun. An example of his fine drawing style was a joke block published in the December 1925 issue of Aussie. This pen line illustration shows a masked cat-burglar, at work in an occupied bedroom. While the owner sleeps, the irritated thief looks at an alarm clock – “Not a thing worth taking. I’ll get even with him; I’ll set his alarm for four o’clock!” Like his father, and artistic uncles Lionel and Percy, Ray had a natural aptitude for black and white humour but didn’t pursue it during his later career. Although Ray’s views on his black and white work are unknown, his father discussed it in a 1960 letter to Jack Lindsay, not long after Ray’s death:
'I tried to get Ray to tackle pen and ink seriously – he did some remarkably good pen drawings – really first class, but he disparaged them and never carried on with them… The truth is, Ray was damnably handicapped by having a parent who had already achieved some distinction in the art he also dedicated himself to.’ (Norman Lindsay, Letters of Norman Lindsay, p 551)
Ray – like his father – was interested in Australian historical subjects and pirate imagery, and these conceptual themes dominated his painting career. During the mid 1920s he studied at the Royal Art Society art school, in Sydney, and while there he painted several works inspired by the 1808 Rum Rebellion. One such painting, Major Johnson announcing the arrest of Governor Bligh was purchased by Dame Nellie Melba in 1928. This work was reproduced in the December 1928 issue of Art in Australia, and was later presented to the Geelong Art Gallery, Victoria. In May 1929 the Sydney Sun newspaper, in conjunction with the newly opened State Theatre, organised Australia’s first lucrative art competition, known as the £1,000 Art Quest. Like many other Sydney artists Ray submitted several works to the competition and despite not winning the lucrative £300 first prize, he was awarded a runner up award of £50 for his oil, Woe to the Vanquished. In the publicity for the announcement of the Art Quest winners the Sun newspaper wrote a short feature on the artist. In this report (7 May 1929), Ray revealed that Norman had given him little art direction:
'Raymond Lindsay, aged 25, and placed amongst the four 50 guinea prize-winners, said to-day that out of such a distinguished collection of work he felt highly honoured that the judges had recognised his efforts. “It will certainly be a great encouragement to me” he said. Raymond Lindsay is the son of Mr. Norman Lindsay “but I received little tuition from my father” he said, “father always advised me to go my own way, and learn for myself.” '
Ray’s solo debut as an artist began at Rubery Bennett’s Australian Fine Art Gallery in July 1929. Although there was some criticism of the draftsmanship in some of Ray’s exhibits, most reviewers praised the young painter’s premier. Despite the advent of the Depression, Ray held another exhibition in Melbourne in late 1930. This show was mainly of pirate themed pictures and was poorly received by the local critics. One of Ray’s later history paintings, Captain Cook at Botany Bay, was used as the cover for the June 1931 issue of B.P. Magazine. In the same issue there was a feature on the artist, written by Dora Payter, which included photographs of the artist and his wife and pet dogs. Despite his early success as an artist, Ray’s painting career stalled in the early 1930s. John Arnold, in his forward to A Letter from Sydney, quotes from a 1960s letter written by Jack Lindsay on the reasons for Ray’s lack of success as an exhibiting artist: “Ray… was a very talented artist, but wanted to do big murals for which there was no market in Australia, and he enjoyed life too much to be ruthless in ambition.”
In the late 1920s Ray married Lorma Kyle Turnbull (1902-64), a model, sculptor and potter, known professionally as Loma Latour. By 1932, Lorma was beginning to exhibit her work regularly with the Royal Art Society and as their relationship was difficult, Ray ceased exhibiting with the Society. By the mid 1930s his relationship with Lorma had ended and after their official divorce he married Joan Skinner in 1941. The couple lived in Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, during most of their marriage and while never wealthy, they survived on Joan’s wages from the David Jones department store and Ray’s art activities.
Despite not being a great success as a painter, Ray became a respected Sydney art journalist, writing well informed reviews for the Sydney Daily Telegraph, a newspaper edited during the war by his friend Brian Penton. Being a man of the twentieth century, Ray was far more sympathetic to modern trends than the previous generation of Lindsays, although his own painting was conservative in style.
In late life Ray helped his older brother with information about his life in Sydney during the 1920s. This 13,000 word document, written in 1959, was later published in 1983 (regrettably in an edited form) as A Letter from Sydney and offers insights into Ray’s bohemian life style during this period. Historian Peter Spearritt later described Ray’s letter in a Sydney Morning Herald book review (16 July 1983) as 'one of the wittiest and bitchiest letters ever written from this city.’ While brothers Jack and Philip had both left Australia by the early 1930s, Ray remained in Sydney, being sole family carer for his depressed alcoholic mother until she died in 1949. During the 1940s and early 1950s Ray continued to paint, and in late life dabbled with landscape painting. As an (almost) life long pipe smoker he became a casualty of throat cancer in the mid 1950s. After several periods in hospital he died at his home in Elizabeth Bay on 12 June 1960. The 56 year old artist was childless and was survived by his wife.
- Clifford-Smith, Silas
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