Menzies Art Brands

NORMAN LINDSAY The Pirates' Return c1940


Norman Lindsay’s 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.

Lindsay often depicted these 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 an 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.

The Pirates’ Return c1940 is characteristic of the best of Norman Lindsay’s oil paintings. A popular subject, pirates were also a favourite theme with the artist. His enthusiasm for the characters and their adventures is felt in the rollicking narrative of this work. Lindsay’s pirates are a highlight of the artist’s 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.)

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