Etching, 'The pawnbroker of the Argyle Cut', paper / wood / glass, made by Lionel Lindsay, Australia, 1915
The Lionel Lindsay etching 'The pawnbroker of the Argyle Cut' is an addition to a set of similar works donated by the artist in 1957. Like the other Lionel Lindsay works, the etching is a significant example of the 'Old Sydney' art movement of the first decades of the twentieth century.
During the 1890s, Julian Ashton began producing prints and oils of early Colonial buildings and streetscapes of The Rocks and Darling Harbour precincts. However the 'Old Sydney' art genre can be precisely dated to March 1902, when an exhibition of Rocks scenes was presented by the Society of Artists. Following the bubonic plague outbreaks of 1900, the NSW Government had commenced demolition and rebuilding of wharves and other structures in The Rocks. EW O'Sullivan, NSW Minister for Public Works, offered 250 pounds for 'pictorial records of old Sydney', and duly purchased most of the exhibition for the State Library and the Art Gallery of NSW.
Although artists including Julian Ashton, Henry Fullwood and Sydney Ure Smith continued to create paintings and prints of The Rocks and other Colonial precincts, Lionel Lindsay came to personify the genre. When Lindsay returned to Sydney from Spain in 1903, he immediately began sketching Rocks scenes. After a successful Society of Artists exhibition of the resulting etchings in 1907, Lindsay concentrated his work in this area for almost two decades. Between 1905 and 1925 he produced numerous editions of 'Old Sydney' etchings and other prints. In 1927, after two years travel in Italy and Spain, Lindsay presented a successful exhibition of his Australian and European prints in London.
By this time, Lindsay had joined his brother Norman as an vocal opponent of artistic Modernism. Combined with the increasingly stereotyped character of his own work, Lindsay's position helped to undermine the credibility of 'Old Sydney' and similar nostalgic schools. Although a popular and saleable movement during the first decades of the twentieth century, 'Old Sydney' is largely ignored by art historians, in contrast to the continuing value accorded the similarly nostalgic rural scenes of the same period.
Lionel Lindsay (1874 - 1961) was one of five Lindsay siblings (Percy, Lionel, Norman, Ruby and Daryl) who made a mark in the art and literary worlds. Although Lionel's younger brother Norman is today the only Lindsay with a substantial reputation, Lionel overshadowed his sibling for much of their careers.
While studying at the National Gallery School, Melbourne, Lionel Lindsay established a career as a magazine and book illustrator. This profession supported his artistic endeavours, especially between 1905 and 1919 when he illustrated numerous books for the New South Wales Bookstall Company, then one of Australia's major publishers. Lionel lived and shared work with Norman Lindsay and developed similar tastes for Bohemianism, pre-Raphaelite art and Nietzsche's anti-puritan philosophy.
In 1902 Lindsay travelled and lived in Spain and began producing prints of Spanish townscapes as well as a volume of prints inspired by Bizet's 'Carmen'. Unable to find a publisher for this work, he returned to Australia and settled in Sydney, where he applied his newfound taste for the urban picturesque to The Rocks and other Colonial remnants. This subject produced the greatest success of Lindsay's career. He also continued to produce similar views of European towns as well as studies of Australian birds and animals. He was an influential critic and writer.
During the 1930s Lindsay became a trustee of the Art Gallery of NSW and (in contrast to his brother Norman) something of a pillar of the artistic and social establishment, a position he used to campaign against Modernist contemporary art, culminating in the book 'Addled art' published in 1942. Lionel Lindsay was knighted in 1941.
Lindsay gave the etching to Howard McKern in 1975, when he was Deputy Director of this museum. McKern was a chemist by training and later became a competent amateur artist.