Menzies Art Brands



Norman Lindsays pirate subjects would have to be some of his most adventurous works, always brimming with swashbuckling figures and their hedonistic pursuits, depicted in a lively palette by the artist. It is no surprise that pirates were a favourite subject of both Norman and his brother, Lionel. Their character provided an abundance of opportunities for the artists, their colourful personas were easily translated onto the canvas by way of an active imagination.

From a young age, Lindsay was interested in maritime objects and it was after a childhood making ship models that the artist went onto create more imaginative artworks featuring pirates and their high sea adventures. Growing up as the middle child in a family of ten children, Lindsay learnt to make his own fun and at the age of four discovered the joy in making model ships. This hobby would become a life-long passion of his the model ships have been preserved for the enjoyment of the public at the Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum at the artists former Blue Mountains home in Faulconbridge.

As a young man, Lindsay dreamt of setting sail in a square rigger and experiencing life on the high seas. He would spend hours at the South Yarra wharves sketching and making studies of the sea craft, imagining himself at the helm one day. It was not until the artist moved to Sydney in 1901 that he came to fully understand and appreciate the beauty of the full rigged ship. Lindsays interest in this subject enabled him to gain an intimate knowledge of maritime subjects and it was from here that the artist went on to create the wonderfully imaginative piratical compositions.

Lindsay also found inspiration in the adventure stories he read as a child, classical fiction novels and of particular importance, Homers great epic, The Odyssey. The myths of classic Greece, the lost world of Atlantis, Ulysses and the haunting sirens whose song could send sailors to a tragic end provided a constant source of material for Lindsays illustrations. Maids Of Atlantis and Siren, are two examples which demonstrate how deeply Lindsay engaged with mythological and maritime subjects his beautifully executed oils and watercolours are the product of years of studying, sketching and recording.

As a child the first book he read was Coral Island by R.M. Ballantyne - this story tells of the adventures of three English boys shipwrecked on an undiscovered Polynesian island and the encounters they have with pirates who visit the island. The fascination with pirates began early on and only grew as Lindsays interest in art developed. After moving to Springwood in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Lindsay hired James Robb to clean the Springwood studio once a week. Robb possessed the perfect countenance for the most sinister of all pirates and the artist would sketch him in fierce poses with a blunderbuss tucked into his belt, or bare chested with a scarf around his head. He would use these sketches for later paintings including well-known works, such as Captured and Suspense.

Lindsay often depicted his high-sea adventurers in idyllic environs, usually surrounded by Ruben-esque beauties feasting on ripe fruit and other delicious morsels. The Pirates Return c1940 is preceded by the watercolours Piracy 1927 and Ladies for Ransom c1938. These two works set the scene for the present work where our buccaneers are seen enjoying their haul of booty surrounded by buxom maidens in varying states of undress. At the centre of this composition is the gallant hero, showing off his haul to the attentive wench by his side. Goblet firmly grasped in one hand, he indicates with the other the bounty of goods that are on offer.

Our hero seems oblivious to the narrative unfolding around him as his fellow adventurers also enjoy the fruits of their plunder and the company of the voluptuous women that attend to them. This motley crew of pirates have come ashore to enjoy dry land and all the benefits it has to offer. The sails of their galleon are visible in the right hand corner of the work, indicating the pirates arrival.

Here, Lindsay describes the popularity of his pirate pictures to journalist, John Hetherington:

The pirate is a colourful ruffian and I have frequently got good subjects out of his sacking of cities for plunder in gold and women. He also gives me shipboard scenes to paint which call for a good deal of technical knowledge of ship construction. Also, there is this peculiar appeal in the pirate as the scoundrel adventurer, risking his neck if the law catches up with him.I have never painted a piratical subject that has not been snatched up by buyers when exhibited. I am constantly asked to paint pirates. As I never take commissions, I only paint pirates when a composition suggests itself.1

The enjoyment which Lindsay derived from his pirate subjects is palpable in this work, there is a lively energy within that gives the painting a sense of joie de vivre. Lindsay drew inspiration from the opulent gatherings of the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, the bountiful feasts providing the artist with scenarios for his own colourful cavaliers to inhabit.

Norman Lindsay maintained his fascination with the sea throughout his life, making his last ship model when he was in his eighties. The influence of the sea can be seen in many of his best and most popular works. The Pirates Return c1940 is characteristic of the best of Norman Lindsays oil paintings. His enthusiasm for the characters and their adventures is felt in the rollicking narrative of this work. Lindsays pirates are a highlight of the artists oeuvre and some of his most technically brilliant and memorable works.

1. Norman Lindsay, letter to John Hetherington (undated), cited Bloomfield, L., Norman Lindsay Watercolours 1897-1969, Odana Editions, Bungendore, 2003, p.126

Caroline Jones BA, MA (Art Admin.)

We use our own and third party cookies to enhance your experience of our site, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing. By continuing to use our site you consent to the use of cookies. Please refer to our privacy and cookie policy.