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 Lionel Arthur Lindsay  (1874 - 1961)

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Lived/Active: Australia      Known for: etching, painting, magazine and newspaper illustration, writing

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Lionel, the third son of ten children was born at Creswick Victoria, to Robert Charles William Alexander Lindsay (1843-1915), surgeon from Londonderry, Ireland, and his wife Jane Elizabeth (1848-1932), daughter of Rev. Thomas Williams, Wesleyan missionary. The Lindsay family, originally from Ayrshire, Scotland, had settled in Tyrone in the late seventeenth century and prospered in the linen trade. Robert, after graduating in medicine at the University of Glasgow, sailed as medical officer in the Red Rose and reached Melbourne on 16 June 1864. He began to practice at Creswick and on 18 May 1869 at Ballarat married Jane.

The boys were educated at the local state school and at Creswick Grammar School, where Lionel and his brothers Percy and Norman in turn edited the Boomerang, its unofficial magazine. Their early interest in art was encouraged by their maternal grandfather who took them on regular visits to the Ballarat Fine Arts Public Gallery.

Lionel taught himself to draw by copying illustrations from Punch and other periodicals taken in the home, becoming at an early age a great admirer of the drawings of Charles Keene. An avid reader from childhood, Lionel developed an interest in astronomy from the works of Charles Dick and, on the recommendation of his maternal grandfather, joined the acting government astronomer Pietro Baracchi in Melbourne, as a pupil-assistant. After a few months Baracchi advised him that art not science was his true métier. He returned to Creswick and took lessons in watercolour painting from Miller Marshall, an English artist.

Shortly afterwards Lionel became staff artist on the Hawklet. Its front page was devoted to drawings covering the crimes, accidents, suicides and social highlights of the preceding week. For copy Lionel frequented Melbourne's theatres and ringsides, the morgue and the racing track. He joined the National Gallery School and shared a studio with George Coates.

In April 1896 Lionel began working for the Free Lance, modeled on the Sydney Bulletin. His brother, Norman, joined him in Melbourne to do ghost drawings for him on the Hawklet. Lionel was paid £2 a week by the Free Lance and thirty-five shillings a week by the Hawklet of which he gave Norman ten shillings for his work.

When the Free Lance failed in October the two brothers experienced a difficult time until Lionel joined the Clarion, a newspaper established by Randolph Bedford, who became his lifelong friend. With Bedford he visited the Western Australian goldfields in search of copy and advertisements.  On Lionel's return to Melbourne he drew for the Tocsin, a radical weekly that attracted articles from Victor Daley and Bernard O'Dowd, edited by Jack Castieau, a public servant. However Lionel fell out with Castieau, who did not pay for the drawings and criticized his paintings of pirates—piracy becoming something of a craze for both Lionel and Norman.

During the summer of 1897-98 Lionel, Norman and Moffitt spent some months living in a gardener's cottage in the grounds of Charterisville, near Heidelberg, where other young artists also foregathered. Both Lionel and Norman were reading widely, Rabelais and Dickens being favourites. But Gautier and George Moore were 'their spiritual guides' until Lionel read Thomas Common's translation of Nietzsche's The Antichrist and Contra Wagner after publication in 1896. Nietzsche became the leading influence in Norman's philosophy of art and life, reinforcing his rejection of Christianity and the Puritan values of his mother who he believed had constrained his childhood freedom unduly. Lionel was an ardent admirer of George Marshall-Hall and with Castieau published a burlesque on Marshall-Hall's persecution by the University of Melbourne. Lionel assisted Desbrowe Annear to paint the Greek temple required for Hall's production of Gluck's Alceste (1898).

He also worked for the Weekly Times, Clarion and the Arena. But times were hard and Lionel went to Sydney in search of work, completing a few drawings for the Daily Telegraph before moving to Brisbane where he worked briefly for a sign-painter and drew houses for Pugh's Almanac. In January 1899, Norman, with the help of Ray Parkinson, a journalist friend, and financial aid from John Elkington, established the Rambler, a weekly based on the English comic magazine, Pick-me-up, and devoted to theatre gossip, light verse and illustrated jokes. Lionel, after a difficult spell in Brisbane, joined them and wrote drama criticism, but the Rambler failed after a few issues. The untimely death of Moffitt in 1899 shocked the brothers profoundly. Norman's Arcadian symbolism and decorative use of the nude at that time is well illustrated in his fine woodcuts for A Consideration of the Art of Ernest Moffitt (1899); Lionel wrote the text with the assistance of Marshall-Hall.

After Moffitt's death the brothers' lives began to diverge. Returning to Brisbane, Lionel worked for the Review, a threepenny weekly that soon failed. Back in Melbourne he wrote book reviews and occasional verses for the Outpost, another short-lived weekly. His closest friend was Herman Kuhr, a French-horn player with whom he rented a cottage at East Melbourne. Enthralled by Marshall-Hall's production of Bizet's Carmen, and a boyhood reading of Don Quixote, he decided to learn Spanish and visit Spain. By early 1902 he had saved enough to leave.

Lionel Lindsay went on to Britain but found no publisher interested in his Carmen project. In London he met Phil May and John Longstaff and began to collect Keene drawings. Then Bedford arrived and invited him to Italy. At Florence, Lionel became engaged to Will Dyson's sister Jane Ann (Jean) who was travelling with the Bedford family.

Between 1905 and 1919, Lionel illustrated twenty-six books published by the New South Wales Bookstall Co. and was active as a contributor and reader for the Lone Hand; he was president of the Australian Painter-Etchers' Society for three years after its foundation in 1921.

Lionel Lindsay's talents were both diverse and influential. As an illustrator of books by Henry Lawson and 'Steele Rudd' he captured the ethos of the 'Australian legend' better perhaps than any other artist. His sympathetic rendering of the fabric of old Sydney buildings places his work at a point of origin of the conservation movement in Australia. As an art critic, both in newspapers and art magazines, he was highly influential; with James Stuart MacDonald he established the reputation of the Heidelberg School. In books such as A Consideration of the Art of Ernest Moffitt and Conrad Martens, the Man and his Art (1920) he pioneered the publication of art monographs in Australia. His etching and his magnificent wood-engravings of birds and other animals, inspired by Thomas Bewick, have not been surpassed in Australia. In all his work there is a much firmer grip upon reality than there is in Norman's more imaginative flights. He assembled an important collection of prints which included works by Dürer, Rembrandt, Whistler and Meryon and an un-rivalled collection of Keene drawings.

Lionel Lindsay died at Hornsby, Australia on 22 May 1961 and was cremated. Predeceased by his wife, he was survived by his son and daughter. His estate was valued for probate at £75,140. He left his Keene drawings to the National Gallery of Victoria. A representative collection of his work is held by the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, Queensland. A portrait (1959) by William Dargie is in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra, and another (1941) by Nora Heysen is in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online

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