Saturday 21 June 2014

Pirate Women by Norman Lindsay (1879-1969)

Captured (1938)

Anyone who has seen the enjoyable 1993 film Sirens will be familiar with the work of Australian painter Norman Lindsay (as depicted by Sam Neill in the film) but perhaps less so with his pirate paintings.   Given I  have just signed up for the North Star On the Seven Seas pirate pre-order I thought that presenting some of  Lindsay's pirate paintings would be appropriate.

Macpherson (right) in Sirens

Lindsay scattered voluptuous naked women across his canvasses like so many ripe fruit on a Caribbean market stall.  Who can forget the sumptuous Elle Macpherson (who, as we have mentioned previously, was largely responsible for me paying out £1700 to join Cannons gym in the City back in the nineties) in Sirens having put on 20 pounds in weight to look more like one of Lindsay's curvaceous models?

Pirates Reward

Pirates were one of Lindsay's favourite subjects but, of course, he couldn't resist filling his canvases with gorgeously curvy women as well.  So, in his paintings Lindsay's pirates seem more interested in collecting women than loot.

Pirates Return (1940)

Lindsay said of his pirate pictures:  "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."

Norman Lindsay and his mistress Rose Soady. Kensington 1909

Lindsay took the maritime technical aspects seriously and spent many hours making and rigging model ships, which he sometimes used as source material for his paintings.  This was something he became interested in after sketching ship models in museums in Kensington, during a trip to London, in 1909.

Lindsay's home in Faulconbridge New South Wales

As Sirens showed, he had plenty of source material for his women at his home in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, about fifty miles from Sydney, which is now a museum and gallery of his work and was actually used as the location for the film.

Rose Lindsay (1885-1978)

One of his principal models was his second wife Rose, who had modelled for him from 1902 before becoming his mistress and then later his wife, when he divorced his first wife in 1918.

 Ladies for Ransom (1938)

These two paintings were done in 1938 and 1940, coincidentally (or perhaps not) at the same time some of the biggest Hollywood pirate films were released.  The pirates here have coralled a positive cornucopia of female loot, from haughty Spanish Donnas to feisty dusky-skinned locals.  Lots of biting and scratching is predicted from this lot.

The Pirates Return (1940)

In contrast, this picture sees the pirates' women welcoming back their men after an expedition on the high seas.  If these ladies were captives then we seem to have seen a Caribbean equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome (Santo Domingo Syndrome?) here.  You can bet that the blonde in the centre just has to be the English Governor's daughter (they're always the worst) although her Spanish equivalent on the right is obviously keen to supplant her in the pirate captain's affections.

The Legatus is very jealous of Lindsay's life; spending your days drawing lovely women in your beautiful home in the countryside, making model ships and living to the age of ninety.  A pirates life for me!


  1. Great post! Everytime I read Fraser's "Pyrates" I always imagine what Black Sheba would have looked like clad as above, or should that unclad! ;-)

    1. I've never managed to finish The Pyrates - I just find it a little too arch and knowing.

  2. Wonderful stuff Legatus!

    I've enjoyed perusing a number of your varied and interesting blogs, all of which offer much to both eye and mind. But this one has a certain something...

    I'm an art graduate myself, and work professionally as an illustrator some of the time, but I have yet to pull of the lifestyle coup Lindsay managed. Hopefully there's still time!


    1. Yes, I had a p;lace at art school but went to university instead although I have enjoyed drawing a number of under-dressed young ladies over the years!