Sir Lionel Lindsay: Master Printmaker
Collectors' List 113 2005 • Introduction

Sir Lionel Lindsay: Master Printmaker
Lionel Lindsay (1874-1961) is considered to be one of Australia's leading printmakers, a master of various printmaking techniques and the creator of hundreds of select images. His work enjoyed immense popularity in his own day and has remained highly sought-after by collectors.

In the 1890s, while studying at the Melbourne Art School, Lindsay saw and admired the etchings and engravings of the European and English masters - Rembrandt, Durer, Whistler and Meryon - in the collection of the Melbourne Gallery, but assumed that the process of etching was beyond the reach of anyone in Australia. Not long afterwards, however, a print by John Shirlow, the first Australian-born etcher to achieve any distinction, was exhibited in Melbourne, and Lindsay immediately became convinced that he, too, could be an etcher. Guided by instructions in P.G. Hammerton's book "Etching and Etchers", he explored the mysteries of the art, using a second-hand knife polishing machine as a press and some copper-plate from a junk yard.

After a year of experimentation, Lindsay travelled to London and Spain, but it was not until he settled in Sydney that he practised etching in earnest. Like Livingston Hopkins, the first successful practitioner of etching in Australia, he focussed on old Sydney in the "Rocks" area for etching subjects. Lindsay's street scenes became distinguished by his inclusion of animated figures: his images of Sydney are a reconstruction of the day-to-day life of those who lived there; his streets and alleys are peopled by children, dogs, hawkers, housewives. In "Old George Street Markets" 1914, children unload vegetables from a handcart; bread is delivered in a basket to a house in "Arcadia Alley" 1919; Chinese residents appear in "Old Essex Street" 1931. These keenly observed details not only enlivened Lindsay's street scenes, but increased their value for the social historian. Lindsay produced over 600 intaglio images covering Australian and overseas subjects.

Lindsay experimented energetically in every variety of printmaking, mastering its techniques and embarking on a prolific career. He enjoyed the challenge of working in difficult and exacting mediums like wood engraving, in which he excelled and produced over 150 images, which were different in subject matter to his intaglio prints. His most spectacular wood engraving, "The White Fan" 1935, demonstrates the height of his skill through the dramatic use of the black background against the fine detail of the white feathers of the peacock. "Goat and Rhododendrons" 1933 is stylistically so typical of the 1930s that it is often used emblematically, to illustrate the period. Lindsay on occasion produced images as tributes to artists he admired including B.E. Minns and J.J. Hilder; he was a close friend of Hans Heysen, which inspired "Heysen's Birds" 1923, a study of turkeys on his friend's Hahndorf property.

The two decades after 1907 saw him active with the Society of Artists and in 1921, when the Australian Painter-Etchers' Society was formed, Lindsay was its first president. In 1923, he began to exhibit in London and had his most successful exhibition of that period at Colnaghi in 1927, which further cemented his artistic reputation. Colnaghi, a London art dealer, led British interest in Lindsay's work and guaranteed his reputation as a major British printmaker.

Trustee of the Art Gallery of NSW, art historian and recipient in 1929 of the Society of Artists medal, Lindsay was knighted in 1941 for his services to Australian art. His work is represented in Australian state galleries, regional galleries and overseas in the print collection of the British Museum, the New York Public Library, and many other major institutions.