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Lindsay considered Rita Lee his best model for oil paintings describing her as the perfect model for the metier of oil paintinga quiet reticent girl who seldom spoke, but who secreted within her all those emotional intensities from which any variation on the feminine image may be extracted.1

Moving to his Sydney studio at 12 Bridge Street in 1934 provided Lindsay with access to many models and he began to seriously paint in oils. To Lindsay, this was necessary as he grappled with painting realistic flesh tones. It was a challenge for the artist, by then in his early fifties, to come to terms with the physical demands of an unfamiliar medium but one he took up with an enthusiastic commitment.

In 1938, the eighteen year old Rita Lee was introduced to Lindsay by another artist, Joe Holloway. She continued to model for Lindsay until 1942 when she married photographer, George Young. During those years he painted a number of important oils of Rita. Compositions, such as Crete 1940 (now in the Melbourne University collection) have her posed as the central figure, always as the focus of the painting. It is, however, the single figure portraits of Rita which are considered to be amongst his very best oil paintings. In these works, Lindsay uses all his skills to convey Ritas radiance.

In 1941, Lindsay painted two portraits of Rita, almost identical in composition. Both are titled The Mantilla. There are, however, subtle differences - the position of the fingers, the drape, and the top of the mantilla. The most obvious difference is the signature. The painting reproduced as plate 30 in Paintings in Oil: Norman Lindsay,2 bears the signature on the lower right corner, whilst the present work has the signature in the upper left corner.

In all of his paintings of Rita, Lindsay uses a device to portray her quiet, regal bearing. It may be a rich drape, a diadem or jewellery. There are also a number of paintings in costume such as The Seventies 1942, The Eighties 1941 and Rita of the Nineties 1942. The artists daughter, Jane Lindsay, writes of Rita Serenity was her outstanding attribute. She talked very little and almost in a whispergraceful and quiet. She managed to make a kitchen chair look like a throne.3 The black lace mantilla, worn by Spanish women in Andalusia, the prop in this work, enhances Ritas unique beauty.

1. Lindsay, N., My Mask, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1970, p.241
2. Lindsay, N., Paintings in Oil: Norman Lindsay, The Shepherd Press, Sydney, 1948
3. Lindsay, J., Portrait of Pa, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1973, p.117

Helen Glad

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