Norman LINDSAY, The bacchanal. Enlarge 1 /1


Creswick, Victoria, Australia 1879 – Springwood, New South Wales, Australia 1969

  • England, Europe 1909-11

The bacchanal. c.1909 Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: prints, ink; paper lithograph, printed in brown ink, from one stone Support: cream wove Japanese vellum paper
Manufacturer's Mark: no manufacturer's mark
Edition State: published state
Impression: undesignated impression
Edition: edition of 50?

Primary Insc: Inscribed lower right below printed image in black pencil, 'Norman Lindsay'. Not dated.
Dimensions: printed image 25.6 h x 37.0 w cm sheet 36.2 h x 47.8 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1981
Accession No: NGA 81.112
  • KCollection of Keith Kingrove (1910-1995), who formed a major collection of material relating to Norman Lindsay (1879-1969) and the art of Bookplates.
  • Purchased by the Australian National Gallery, from Keith Wingrove, Highgate, South Australia, February 1981.

The motivation behind Norman Lindsay’s use of elements from the classical tradition was far removed from that of his brother Lionel’s, and represented a retreat from reality to an imaginary world. In 1901, he moved from Melbourne to Sydney to work as an illustrator for the Bulletin magazine. In Sydney, he joined a circle of poets, writers, musicians and artists committed to a classical revival within Australia; this provided him with the impetus to continue to pursue mythological representations in his art. Lindsay and Hugh McCrae published Satyrs and Sunlight together in 1909 – poems by McCrae accompanied by Lindsay’s illustrations of nymphs, satyrs and fauns.

The bacchanal typifies Lindsay’s representation of mythological and mortal figures enjoying uninhibited revelry and merriment. Set in a land far removed from the reality of urban Australian life in the 1900s, the bulky figures blissfully celebrate the abundance of nature. The half-goat/half-human form of the satyr is the point of commonality between human and beast, and all partake in ‘animal’ passions and pleasures.

The bacchanal demonstrates Lindsay’s superb drafting ability and confidence utilising the medium of lithography. Detailed areas, such as the panther’s markings and the texture of the animal skins, contrast with the lighter skin tones and unembellished areas of the central female figures. However, while the tumbling figures direct the action from left to right, the scene seems strangely still. The composition is contrived as if to heighten the drama and spectacle of the subject matter. Lindsay consciously created a sense of theatre in the image by presenting several of the figures looking out to challenge the viewer. In this, he jubilantly touted for comment and hoped to provoke a response from his audience. His ongoing celebration of paganism and his use of buxom female nudes inspired controversy throughout his life.

Lee Kinsella 2002.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002