Tag Archives: modernism

L – Norman Lindsay: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

As you may be aware, my theme for the 2018 A-Z April Blogging Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today,  I’ll be writing to Norman Alfred William Lindsay (22 February 1879 – 21 November 1969). He was a famous Australian artist, sculptor, writer, editorial cartoonist, scale modeler, and an accomplished amateur boxer. Today, we’ll be entertained by Australian Jazz band Galapagos Duck performing I Feel Good at Norman Lindsay’s home at Springwood in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

By the way, it is almost comical that Norman Lindsay follows on directly after Abstract Expressionist, Wassily Kandinsky. While Kandinsky lauded modern art as a founder of the Blaue Reiter and later at the Bauhaus, Norman Linsday, like Hans Heysen , seemed oblivious to various new ways of painting and steadfastly continued along the same path. Both Norman Lindsay and his brother and fellow artist, Lionel, resisted modernism. Indeed, Lionel Lindsay called modernism : “The Cult of Ugliness” and they distinctly saw it as a threat to the Australian national identity and civilization itself.

Magic Pudding

Warning…Pudding with Attitude.

However, my introduction to Norman Lindsay pre-dates my awareness of all these “isms”. When I was a little girl. My mother gave me a book for Christmas… The Magic Pudding , which was written & illustrated by Norman Lindsay. For some reason, I didn’t read the book at the time, just as both my kids have managed to ignore the beautiful, hardcover edition I bought for them at around the same age. Surely, I must’ve read it at some point. The illustrations are very familiar and the story line more or less came back to me tonight, as I powered through it online.

The Magic Pudding was published in 1918 and tells the story of a magic pudding, which grows back after a slice is eaten. Moreover, you just have to whistle and the pudding changes flavour. Clearly, such a pudding was worth a fortune, and the plot centres around the battles between the pudding owners and the conniving pudding thieves. While I’m focusing on the illustration side of the book, the creative use of language throughout reminds me of Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese) in Fawlty Towers (who I just found out played Alfred the Pudding in the movie based on the book). How about you try reading this out after a few drinks:

Of all the swivel-eyed, up-jumped, cross-grained, sons of a cock-eyed tinker,’ exclaimed Bill, boiling with rage. ‘If punching parrots on the beak wasn’t too painful for pleasure, I’d land you a sockdolager on the muzzle that ‘ud lay you out till Christmas. Come on, mates,’ he added, ‘it’s no use wastin’ time over this low-down, hook-nosed tobacco-grabber.’ And leaving the evil-minded Parrot to pursue his evil-minded way, they hurried off in search of information. [1]

Pudding characters

Yet, while the language is comical and entertaining, Lindsay’s illustrations bring the story to life with his incredible drawings. These include: Albert the Pudding, Bunyip Bluegum, the Koala; Sam Sawnoff, the penguin; Watkin Wombat and the Possum.

However, there was a lot more to Norman Lindsay than the Magic Pudding. However, to get to know that side of Norman Lindsay, I had to grow up. I can’t remember which came first…the movie Sirens starring Elle McPherson, or visiting his former home at Falconbridge in the Blue Mountains and seeing his obsession with the nude in its unrestrained splendour. He didn’t hold a lot back. Indeed, some of his works were very controversial.

The first major controversy of Norman Lindsay’s career erupted in Sydney in 1904 when the pen and ink drawing, Pollice verso, 1904, was displayed in the twenty-fifth Annual Exhibition of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales. A huge debate erupted over the painting, which was seen as “blasphemous”and debauched by its detractors. Indeed, it landed Lindsay in a lot of hot water, which carried over into the pages of The Bulletin, where Lindsay worked as an illustrator. Three years later, Lindsay sent it to Melbourne for display in the Sydney Society of Artists’ First Melbourne Exhibition, which opened at the Guild Hall in Swanston Street on 25 October 1907. Most astounding for Lindsay,  Pollice verso was purchased from the exhibition by the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria for the extraordinary sum of 157 guineas and 10 shillings[2].

While Lindsay might condemn me as a “wowser”, I am much more comfortable with his Magic Pudding sketches, than his more “interesting” nudes.

Meanwhile, today I uncovered another Norman Lindsay gem: Creative Effort: An Essay in Affirmation, which was published in 1924, which covers the meaning of life and art, drawing on philosophical concepts and is heavily influenced by the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche. It was mind-boggling reading, especially as I was really zooming through it. However, I’ve jotted down a few quotes, which I intend to follow up later…

“One thing alone in existence is manifest, permanent, indestructible, and that is the individual effort to create through thought and beauty. This passion to create something finer than the creator himself is the one, permanent and enduring element in man, and since creative effort is the rarest, most difficult achievement, it remains the greatest stimulus to high development- and this development is life”[3].

 “But evil must be measured by its reach, its aim, its capacity to destroy the highest. Therefore, its attack must be in an effort to pervert, mislead and destroy the creative impulse[4]

“Pain and exultation, Beauty and Ugliness, Good and Evil, these are all part of the Test. Without them there is no development – no leap upwards into the gigantic problems of Futurity.[5]

“But the problem of Common man is not effort, it is the desire to escape effort.[6]

So, after cramming my head full of all of this today, I am somewhat prepared to start writing to Norman Lindsay…

Letter to Norman Lindsay

Dear Norman,

I don’t know whether you ever felt torn between your creative drive and inspiration and the realities of family life. However, I’m burning the midnight oil and it’s getting far too late to wax lyrically about anything. I have an early start and need to get my daughter ready for a dance Eisteddfod. Clearly, it doesn’t take much for my mind to fill up with research and I should be thinking about tutus instead of the meaning of life.

However, after reading snatches of your Effort: An Essay in Affirmation, I thought you might be a good one to direct this rather weighty question to:

What is the meaning of life? Has it become any clearer for you since you crossed over to the other side?

I’d appreciate your help.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Letter from Norman Lindsay

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your letter. It’s forced me into conversing with that Kandinsky chap, although I did enjoy sharing letters with Hans Heysen.

All I’ll simply say is not to be afraid of death. Indeed, death is birth. After all, “why should the change in this life to the next be anymore stupendous than the arrival of Life on Earth?[7]

I hope that helps.

Best wishes,

Norman Lindsay.

Further Reading

https://www.salon.com/2004/07/28/pudding

Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort.

References

[1] The Magic Pudding: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/23625/23625-h/23625-h.htm pg 53

[2] https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down-the-trials-and-tribulations-of-norman-lindsays-pollice-verso-2/

[3] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort pp 20-21.

[4] Ibid p 45.

[5] Ibid p 48.

[6] Ibid p 59

[7] Ibid pg 52.

Hahndorf, South Australia: the Blacksmith and the Artists.

Welcome to Hahndorf, a German-Australian village in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills.  As you prepare for landing, could you please switch you clocks back well into last century to an era where there were few, if any, cars and the horse and cart were still being serviced at HA Haebich’s Smithy on Main Road, Hahndorf. That was before WWI when Hahndorf’s name was changed to Ambleside, as a reflection of fierce anti-German sentiment and changed back again in 1935.

Map showing the location of Hahndorf.

I send my apologies in advance as this is only going to be a rudimentary tour. This will only be a fleeting day trip for the Blogging from A-Z Challenge. I promise I’ll pop back later for a more in depth visit.

My much loved Grandfather, Bert Haebich, was not only born in Hahndorf but was also descended from the Hartmann and Paech families, who were among the very first German settlers to arrive in Australia back in 1838. These Lutherans were escaping persecution in Prussia and came to South Australia in search of religious freedom. They were an extremely stoic and hardworking community who used to walk their produce into Adelaide on foot and certainly weren’t afraid of backbreaking hard work!!

Hahndorf is a thriving tourist attraction these days and something of a living museum. In so many ways, it looks like a chunk of 19th century Germany, which was dug up and transplanted to the South Australia. Many of the original houses have been retained and restored including Haebich’s Cottage, the family’s home on Main Street, which was built in the late 1850’s by J.Georg. Haebich. It is a substantial ‘fachwerk’ (basically a timber skeleton with infill of pug [straw/mud], brick or stone) German cottage and is absolutely gorgeous.

As this is just a fleeting tour, I’m going to cut to the chase and introduce you to the Blacksmith and the artists.

Heinrich August Haebich, my Great Great Grandfather had a Smithy on Main Street, Hahndorf and lived in Haebich’s Cottage next door. August was was born in Hahndorf on the 17th March, 1851 to Johann George HAEBICH (1813-1872) and Christiane SCHILLER (-1857). August married Maria Amalie Thiele in 1874 but she died less than a year later and on 12th April, 1877, he married Caroline Maria Paech. They had 9 children and I think all four boys worked in the Smithy at some time. With the advent of the car, the business slowly wound down and my Great Grandfather Ed left to work as an engineer with the railways and later as a market gardener. His brother Bill was the last Haebich blacksmith…the end of the line.

My grandfather loved telling me stories of growing up in Hahndorf and I was enchanted. There was an incredible cast of characters and antics like tying a goat to the Church bells so they rang every time to goat reached out to eat more grass. There was also an explosion of some sort during WWII, which sparked fears of a Japanese invasion but was yet another prank. There was a cockatoo which allegedly used to walk across the road leaning to one side with its wing bent staggering along saying: “Drunk again! Drunk again!” Hahndorf is a short distance from the Barossa Valley, one of Australia’s most famous wine-growing regions and there is even a Lutheran Church planted, or should I surrounded by vineyards. I think that should put you in the picture!

While most of the characters in my grandfather’s stories remained anonymous, one name certainly stood out. That was the world-renowned artist Sir Hans Heysen, who lived in Hahndorf with his wife Sallie and family in a spectacular home called: “The Cedars”.

Hans Heysen, "White Gums".

Hans Heysen, “White Gums”.

“Its (the gum tree) main appeal to me has been its combination of mightiness and delicacy – mighty in its strength of limb and delicate in the colouring of its covering. Then it has distinctive qualities; in fact I know of no other tree which is more decorative, both as regards the flow of its limbs and the patterns the bark makes on its main trunk. In all its stages the gum tree is extremely beautiful.”

SIR HANS HEYSEN

 

Heysen had what you could describe as a spiritual relationship with the Australian Gum Tree and he was also captivated by light and trying to capture and infuse light onto the canvas. Understandably, Heysen was quite the conservationist, particularly where saving these glorious gum trees, which were threatened by the installation of electric wires but also by development. He deeply lamented each tree which was lost. Indeed, it was his through his protection of the local gum trees that Hans Heysen entered my Grandfather’s stories. It was known that if anybody wanted to chop down one of these trees, they would have to speak to Hans Heysen first and he was a formidable force. I also found out that my grandfather’s sister, Ivy, worked as a housekeeper for the Heysen’s. That still intrigues me and unfortunately I need had the chance to discuss this with her.

My grandfather took this photo at the Hahndorf Centenary Celebrations in 1938 and I believe that in Hans Heysen standing on the RHS wearing a white coat and his characteristic knickerbockers and long boots.

My grandfather took this photo at the Hahndorf Centenary Celebrations in 1938 and I believe that in Hans Heysen standing on the RHS wearing a white coat and his characteristic knickerbockers and long boots.

Here is a link to some of Hans Heysen’s works: http://www.artgallery.sa.gov.au/agsa/home/Learning/docs/Online_Resources/Heysen_Trail.pdf

With his love and reverence for the Australian Gum Tree, I guess it is fair to say that Heysen’s outlook fitted in better with the more pastoral and bush portrayal of Australia and Heysen certainly despised Modernism and all its trappings. This was reflected in paintings such as The Toilers (1920) where Hans Heysen painted a local farmer “Old Kramm” and his horses.

Perhaps, it was Heysen’s love for this passing pre-mechanised world,which inspired Hans Heysen to undertake an etching of Haebich’s Smithy in 1912. My grandfather had a print of this painting and it was something we knew about and I guess were proud of without knowing any background to it at all.

Hans Heysen, "The Old Blacksmith's Shop, Hahndorf." (1912)

Hans Heysen, “The Old Blacksmith’s Shop, Hahndorf.” (1912)

It was only last year, that I really questioned Heysen’s perspective of the Blacksmith’s shop and how his still life contrasted to my grandfather’s animated stories of a busy, flourishing workshop. I remember how my grandfather;s face would light up, even as an old man, talking about how the water would whoosh up when the red hot steel rim for the wheel would be dunked in water producing an incredible gush of steam. He was a small boy once again mesmerised by the whole experience and and there was such theatre.

In addition to questioning Heysen’s still life of a place which was anything but still, I also realised that Heysen’s work portrayed the more traditional tools of blacksmithing at a time when the Smithy was already being mechanised. August Haebich and his eldest son Otto, were innovative engineers who invented the Wattle Stripper and engines. They were hardly relics from the past or living and breathing museum pieces.

So, there was a bit of food for thought, which I’ll need to investigate further.

In the meantime, while  doing yet another Google search and romping through the online newspapers at Trove, I made quite a discovery. It might not warrant global acclaim but it felt like I’d found a gold nugget in my own backyard. Believe me!  I was shouting “Eureka”from the rafters even though no one else was listening!

It turned out that Hans Heysen wasn’t the only famous artist who had depicted the Haebich Smithy. Hans and Sallie Heysen entertained numerous artists and performers at The Cedars. Indeed, famous singer Dame Nellie Melba was a regular visitor and naturally fellow artists also came to stay. Naturally, they roamed around Hahndorf and did what artists do…sketch. After all, the very quaint German buildings are what we would now call very “photogenic”.

Lionel Lindsay: "The Smithy Window, Ambleside" (1924).

Lionel Lindsay: “The Smithy Window, Ambleside” (1924).

So, consequently, I have unearthed other sketches of the Haebich Smithy. There was one by Sir Lionel Lindsay, brother of artist and author Norman Lindsay of Magic Pudding fame as well as artist and art publisher Sydney Ure Smith. Sydney Ure Smith was so smitten with Hahndorf, that he included scenes in his book: Old Colonial By-Ways (1928)…alongside much more recognised Sydney landmarks such as the buildings in Macquarie Street and Elizabeth Farm House in Parramatta, which is the oldest house in Australasia. Elizabeth Farm House was built In 1793 Sir John MacArthur and was where he con ducted his experiments with merino sheep, giving birth to the Australian wool industry.

Sydney Ure Smith: The Blacksmith's Shop, Ambleside (1925).

Sydney Ure Smith: The Blacksmith’s Shop, Ambleside (1925).

So, immortalised alongside, Elizabeth Farm House, is Haebich’s Smithy.

When you look at it like that, it really does seem rather incredible and amazing and yes, I’m impressed, proud and so many superlatives that I couldn’t possibly get them all down without sounding like a thesaurus!

xx Rowena