Percy Lindsay

Percy Lindsay (b.1870- d.1952)

Painter, etcher and cartoonist, was born in Creswick, Victoria, the eldest brother of Lionel , Norman , Daryl, Ruby and Isabel Lindsay (and other non-artist siblings). Percy was educated at Creswick Grammar School, which all the boys attended, where he edited the unofficial school magazine the Boomerang (followed in turn by Lionel and Norman). He was revered by his brothers for the way he was able to maximise life’s pleasures, especially for his success in romancing the daughters of local miners and shopkeepers. According to his brother Daryl, “he took life as it came, extracting all he could get out of it at the moment” (The Leafy Tree p 62). Unlike his younger brothers, Lionel and Norman, who left Creswick as soon as they could, he lived at home until 1897. His first art lessons came when the watercolourist Miller Marshall began to hold occasional classes at Creswick. Later Walter Withersestablished formal classes in landscape class . After the Withers School folded Percy studied art in Ballarat under Frederick Sheldon before starting his own school at the old Creswick School of Mines.

His brother Daryl, who did not approve of Percy’s lifestyle nevertheless admired his Creswick landscapes of the 1890s, and described them as “the best things he ever did”. Lionel, who with Norman was forging a career as a black and white artist in Melbourne, and was concerned for the financial future of the family persuaded Percy to join them. In Melbourne he happily adopted the lifestyle of the self conscious bohemians, illustrating for the Hawklet as well as other publications. He resisted Lionel’s pleas to attend classes at the National Gallery School, preferring to spend his money and time on the pleasures of life. This period is best described in his drawing,’Smoke Night, Victorian Artists’ Society 1906’ (ink 34.1 × 25.1 cm, BFAG, published Lone Hand (1907?) & ill. Hanson, cat.113). Despite his indolent lifestyle Percy was domestically quite meticulous, so it became a family joke when his sister, the decidedly undomestic but artistically ambitious, Ruby Lindsay joined him as his housekeeper in 1903.

In 1906 Percy married Jessie Hammond, an old girlfriend, the daughter of a grocer. Their son, Peter Hammond Lindsay (also an artist), was born in 1908. Because he was amiable, unambitious, talented and had a family to support, friends helped put freelance work in his direction and he produced a considerable amount of commercial illustration.

In 1917 Percy moved to Sydney, where he took over from Lionel as principal illustrator for the NSW Bookstall Company. In 1919-26 he illustrated 33 books for it. Although his nephew Jack Lindsay ( Life Rarely Tells 1982, 252) said Percy’s illustrations were ‘rather bad’, the Triad (10 August 1923, 40) thought they were appropriate for the intended audience:

“Far and wide they [Bookstall books] go, to a special audience of simple folk. To that audience the opulent thighs of the circus-lady in Mr. Percy Lindsay’s cover for the late J.D. Fitzgerald’s collection of tent-yarns will give great satisfaction. The popularity of big legs, which has decayed in the effete cities, holds still outback. There is something appealing about Mr. Lindsay’s fat ladies, something so timid as to be almost babylike. Percy draws them on Sunday mornings after prayers, when he is all warmed-up with satisfaction as he reflects on the infinite goodness of Providence” (quoted Mills, 34).

His black and white art, especially his contributions to the Lone Hand and theBulletin sustained him financially, but his main interest remained painting, especially oil painting. In the 1920s he was influenced by Elioth Gruner’s practice of painting into the light. Some of his most delightful paintings of this period include studies of Norman Lindsay’s garden at Springwood, as well as studies of the boatsheds on the old industrial sites of Sydney Harbour.

His brother Daryl regarded him as “the best painter and colourist of us all. Percy had no claims to draughtsmaship and was a mediocre black and white artist which brought him enough to live on. But he had one thing, a true feeling for colour and perhaps, quite unconscious of it, a natural colour sense.” (p164)

The Mitchell Library holds 465 original cartoons by Percy drawn 1919-46 for theBulletin , including the undated The New Rouseabout (1940s) – a woman with a vacuum cleaner in a shearing shed (ML Px*D479/127). Also gags about high-rise flats, working-class women etc.

A longtime member of the Black and White Artists’ Club, Lindsay’s retrospective exhibition (BFAG) included a smock decorated for him in 1940 by fellow members, including Jack Baird , Jolliffe , Will Mahony , Joan Morrison , Emile Mercier ,Jim Russell , John Santry, Ted Scorfield and Unk White (offered Christie’s Australia, Australian and European Paintings , Melbourne 27 & 28 April 1998, lot 318, and included in SH Ervin b/w exhibition 1999, p.c.). Percy’s health failed after he was knocked down by a motor car in North Sydney at the age of eighty and his helath never fully recovered. At his funeral, the cartoonist Unk White shouted “Three Cheers for old Perce”, and the mourners all joined in (p29).