Adventure 1944 signed 'Norman Lindsay' lower right oil on canvas 89.0 x 76.5cm (35 1/16 x 30 1/8in).
PROVENANCE Private collection Australian & International Fine Art, Christies, Melbourne, 27 November 2001, lot 43 Private collection, Sydney
LITERATURE Norman Lindsay & D. Stewart, Paintings In Oil: Norman Lindsay, Shepherd Press, Sydney, 1945, p.202, pl.3 (illus.) Lin Bloomfield, Norman Lindsay: Oil Paintings 1889-1969, Odana Editions, Bungendore, New South Wales, 2006, p.203 (illus.)
The image of man, noble of mien, seated on horseback and sweeping up a fair lady into his arms, recalls many tales of glorious heroism. Greek mythology gives us the drama of Perseus rescuing the beautiful Andromeda from the sea monster, and Christianity St. George saving the king's daughter from the jaws of the dreadful dragon. Throughout the history of Western art artists have delighted in such subjects. While Norman Lindsay's Adventure 1944 evokes the motif of the rescue of the damsel in distress, pictorially, but not in subject, it is closer to the subject of rape the carrying off of a woman by force. Popular subjects included Pluto taking Persephone off to the Underworld and the rape of the daughters of Leucippus. The latter is the title of Peter Paul Rubens's famous painting of circa 1617, presenting men of imposing appearance, plenteous display of female flesh, and stately steeds. 1 Perhaps Lindsay had this picture in mind when he painted Adventure, adapting with much license, and inverting female misfortune into triumph. At first glance Lindsay's Adventure seems like the male dream come true. Surrounded by adoring feminine beauty, crowned by a gothic castle on high, our hero assists his chosen beauty to join him on horseback for their journey to fulfillment. He ardent of guise, she voluptuous of figure, their naked bodies unite in an erotic upward movement, excited by the flickering light, looks of female longing and gesture. The expectant curve of their embrace is as taut as a bow ready to launch its arrow.
Virile as the man may be, he is, however, not the centre of attention. Typically for Lindsay, this place is reserved for the woman, the roundness of her form crafted by the lascivious embrace of light. As ever in Lindsay's work, the female comes first, resplendent in her nakedness mastered in the flesh tones of the artist's brush. In Adventure Lindsay creates a triumvirate of female nudity, frontal, side and back, using the underlying geometric form as a metaphor.
The whole painting pulsates with movement. Adventure appealed to Lindsay. He explored and presented it in many forms throughout his art - in the daring enterprises of gods and goddesses, sirens, pirates, cavaliers, and magicians, of the masked ball and fête champêtre.
Adventure 1944, which was painted in Lindsay's studio at Springwood in the Blue Mountains, is based on a detailed compositional study in pencil now in a private collection. 2 The finished oil painting shows how closely he adhered to his original study, the only significant change being the transfer of the castle from the top right to the left. While giving greater emphasis to the main group and the upward compositional thrust, it elevated the romanticism of the moment. The abduction of love is carried off with the aid of the most heroic of animals, the emphasis on the horse's head in turn silhouetted by the light shining on the castle's walls and pointed towers. The sky, suitably cloud tossed, expresses emotional as well as physical adventure, adding to that sense of theatre that so characterizes Lindsay's best work.
1. Rubens, The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus, c.1617, collection of the Alte Pinakothek, Munich 2. Lin Bloomfield, op. cit., illustrated p.202