Important Australian + International Fine Art
30 April 2014


(1879 - 1969)

watercolour on paper

76.0 x 57.0 cm

signed lower left: NORMAN LINDSAY

$30,000 - 40,000

Private collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

Norman Lindsay's name is synonymous with buxom women and bolder men, usually peopling the romantic and bacchic adventures of the mythical ancients of Greece and Rome, the dashing cavaliers of King Charles II, the 'Merry Monarch', and audacious buccaneers with their oft times brazen damsels. The watercolour Pirates Return, c1940 is a classic. Lindsay leaves nothing unexplored in his imaginings of beauty and the bounty that is the lucky pirate's lot. Beside those vessels of silver and gold, these other vessels of pleasure disport unclad or draped in wraps sumptuous to the eye. Looks of shock, horror and delight - raised eyebrows, pouting lips, and lustful stares - set up a dialogue within the picture to enthrall the most ardent Lindsay connoisseur. No sensuous and inviting part of the female form is overlooked as Lindsay provides the welcome home to cheer the heart of any pirate. In his generosity Lindsay invites the viewer to participate by the use of a clever compositional ploy. Disposing the figure of the lower parts to the foreground right, he opens the way for the viewer to step into his shoes. This curiously inviting twist and corresponding play of perspective, opens up the adventure for all to share.

In his numerous attacks on wowserism, Lindsay revealed an ongoing fascination with pirates, even making models of sailed decked galleons. In a letter to the writer John Hetherington, Lindsay said of one of his most popular subjects:

'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 at by buyers when exhibited.'1

In Pirates Return, Lindsay extended the excitement and heightened the drama further by keeping the two groups of figures apart through the use of a powerful angle. Men are separated from women, desire from fulfillment. To the urgency that fills the avalanche of piratical figures, the women react with the agitation of those disturbed from slumber and more peaceful times. Cleverly, the gulf of expectation is bridged only by the man, the viewer, in the corner with a foot in both camps.

1. Undated letter from Norman Lindsay to John Hetherington, quoted in Bloomfield, L., Norman Lindsay Watercolours 1897-1969, Odana Editions, Bungendore, 2003, p. 126