The first member of the prolific Lindsay family to become a professional illustrator. A constant experimenter with photography and etching, Lionel Lindsay became a dominant figure in Australian art in the first half of the 20th century, but in the popular mind he was eclipsed by his younger brother Norman.
painter, etcher, printmaker, cartoonist, illustrator and writer, Lionel Arthur Lindsay was born at Creswick, near Ballarat, the third of the ten children of Dr Robert Charles Lindsay and his wife Jane Elizabeth Williams. Dr Lindsay kept bound copies of London Punch , and the illustrations of Charles Keene became the first works of art that he admired. All the Lindsay children drew, encouraged by their mother and their grandfather, the Methodist missionary Rev Thomas Williams, who was himself an amateur artist.
Lionel was the most academically brilliant of the Lindsay children and was awarded a full scholarship to Creswick Grammar where he edited the school newspaper, the Boomerang , which had previously been edited by his brother Percy . His grandfather encouraged him to read Rabelais in French, and also to appreciate scientific knowledge. An early passion for astronomy led his grandfather to arrange for the15 year old Lindsay to move to Melbourne where he was employed as a pupil assistant to Pietro Baracchi, the Government Astronomer. In the South Melbourne public library he discovered art through looking at bound volumes of reproductions of black and white art. Astronomy did not survive this new discovery and Lionel returned to Creswick where he studied for matriculation with a private tutor, and kept a diary in which he drew studies of his family, friends and scenes of Creswick life. This diary became a source for his younger brother Norman 's novel Redheap . When some visiting actors came to Creswick he drew them, and as a result the 16 year old boy was offered work as an illustrator for the Hawk , later renamed the Hawklet at 35/- a week. Members of the Lindsay family were to be staff artists on the Hawklet for the next 15 years. In 1896 with his friends, Ted Dyson, Randolph Bedford, J. B. Castieau and P.E. Castilla he founded the Free Lance , a publication loosely based on Sydney’s Bulletin . Because of the demands of this publication he yielded to his younger brother Norman’s plea to be able to join him in Melbourne. At first Norman was Lionel’s ghost, covering for his work on the Hawklet , but when the Free lance folded only after a few months, the two survived a precarious existence with odd freelance jobs. In 1897 he made some illustrations for the Labor publication, the Tocsin , but stopped drawing when he was not paid. They lived for a while at Charterisville with their friends Ernest Moffitt and Will Dyson , but Lionel then travelled to the Western Australian goldfields for Randolph Bedford’s Clarion . His artistic model at this time was Dick Heldar, the journalist illustrator in Rudyard Kipling’s The Light that Failed (1891). In 1898 there was a new venture when Lionel, Norman and a journalist friend Ray Parkinson signed an oath in blood to write a pirate novel, loosely based on Treasure Island . They dressed like pirates and Lionel made his first etchings of pirates, using archaic technology (the press was an old mangle ) to capture the mood. The subject matter did not last, but the medium continued to intrigue him.
In 1900 Lionel saw his first production of Bizet’s Carmen , and fell in love with Spain, a love that endured for the rest of his life. He learnt Spanish from a local Sevillian cork cutter and in 1902 sailed via Marseilles to Seville. After a short stay in London, where he admired a major survey exhibition of Charles Meryon’s etchings of old Paris. he travelled to Italy where he became engaged to Jean Dyson, the sister of the artist Will Dyson. Lionel moved to Sydney he became the cartoonist of the Evening News , edited by A.B. (Banjo) Paterson. He also contributed to the Bulletin and the Lone Hand . Increasingly though he was interested in etching. Inspired by Meryon he made etchings of Old Sydney as well as romantic aquatints of arcadian landscapes featuring Sydney harbour. His first etchings were published in 1907, printed on Penfold’s letter press, but later he imported his own press. Will Dyson’s caricature of Lionel, published in the Society of Artists’ exhibition of 1907, shows an untidy man, with books flying behind him. Dyson also commented on his unhealthy obsession with his younger brother, Norman, who Lionel regarded as a visual genius. “An artist should not have a brother. He should divorce him,” Dyson wrote.
Other artists were influenced by Lionel’s passion for etching. Sydney Ure Smith , the founder of Art in Australia , joined him on expeditions drawing and painting colonial architecture. Smith also commissioned to write many articles on Australian artists, including Arthur Streeton , Hans Heysen , and Elioth Gruner .
As well as cartooning Lionel wrote and illustrated the Chunderloo series of comic advertisements, published in the Bulletin and was an illustrator for Steele Rudd’s comic novels.
When Norman was in London in 1910 Lionel asked him to obtain mezzotint rockers. These were used to make a series of mezzotints of old Sydney, influenced by the work of Constable. After 1917 he developed a major rift in his friendship with Norman, which eventually led to a severing of relations between the two. This was caused in part by tensions over their brother Reg’s death in World War I, and also because of Norman’s appropriation of Lionel’s teenage diary in his literary fiction. Norman was also less appreciative of Lionel writing on the work of Conrad Martens and other Australian artists. Lionel turned to wood engraving in the tradition of Thomas Bewick , and it was this work that led to his art coming to the attention of Harold Wright of Colnaghi, the London art dealer.
In 1926 Lionel returned to Spain where he made etchings and drypoints of his beloved Spanish landscape. He also travelled through France, Italy and Germany. His subsequent London exhibition in 1927 ensured his British reputation and his financial security. He used his new wealth to buy master prints by Rembrandt, Goya, Durer, and drawings by Charles Keene. There were frequent journeys between Europe and Australia until 1936 when he returned home, depressed at the rise of Franco.
Lionel’s other objection to Europe was the rise of modern art. In 1942 he wrote Addled Art , an attack on modernism and one of the most hated books published in this country. It therefore surprised many to discover that he was one of the Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales who voted to award the 1943 Archibald Prize to WilliamDobell 's portrait of Joshua Smith. He was also the informant who supplied vital information to the Trustees’ lawyers before the court case that arose from this decision.
Lionel was a great friend to many; he loved books, fine food and fine conversation. His friend Robert Menzies admired his “divine and disordered conversation”. Menzies caused him to be knighted for his services to art in 1941.
Lionel continued to make etchings and woodcuts long after they ceased to be fashionable. His last printed work was made in 1958 and died of pneumonia on the 21st of May in 1961, welcoming death as a friend.