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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lindsay, Rose (1885–1978)

by Ana Carden-Coyne

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Rose Lindsay (1885-1978), artist's model, printmaker and author, was born on 5 July 1885 at Gosford, New South Wales, and registered as Rosa, third of nine children of English-born parents John Francis Soady, labourer, and his wife Rosanna, née Gale. Rose was raised in bushland near the Lane Cove River, in the Sydney suburb of Longueville.

Distinguished by her fine, pale skin, deep-set almond eyes, rosebud lips and luscious dark hair, Rose was an artist's model par excellence. Never nymph-like, her body possessed a muscular force suggesting her confident character. In 1902 Julian Rossi Ashton introduced her to the artist Norman Lindsay. She became Lindsay's principal model, and then secret lover. His marriage ended and he moved to London in 1909; next year she joined him.

Rose modelled for Sydney Long, Dattilo Rubbo, Sydney Ure Smith, Harold Cazneaux and Ashton, among others, as well as for hundreds of Lindsay's drawings, etchings and paintings. She posed for his 'Crucified Venus'—a pen-and-ink drawing shown at the Society of Artists' exhibition in Melbourne in 1913—in which a firm, sensuous body was nailed to the crucifix. More shocking to some was the furrowed brow of the figure, displaying a pained, even ecstatic, expression. Scandalized reactions from church figures and the press led the Melbourne committee to remove the work from public view. This incurred the wrath of Ashton, president of the Society of Artists, who threatened to withdraw all the New South Wales paintings from the exhibit. 'Venus' was re-hung within the week.

Late in 1912 Rose and Norman had purchased a house and built a studio near Springwood, in the Blue Mountains, which was visited by such well-known figures as 'Banjo' Paterson, Henry Lawson, Dame Nellie Melba and Miles Franklin. On 14 January 1920 at Hawthorn, Strathfield, Rose married Norman with Presbyterian forms. His divorce was made absolute two weeks later. Their children Janet and Helen were born in 1920 and 1922 respectively. Committed to Norman as both his muse and collaborator, Rose spent many hours at the etching press, perfecting her printmaking skills. In addition, she efficiently managed his career, while working on her own creative interests.

Rayner Hoff in 1926 sculpted a statue of Rose striking a signature pose—with defiant throw of the neck, arched spine, and the back of her hand resting provocatively on her hip; significantly, she was depicted wearing her wedding ring. Rose and Norman travelled to the United States of America and England in 1931-32. In 1940 Rose accompanied a collection of Norman's water-colours, pen-drawings, etchings and oils to the U.S.A. A fire in a freight train destroyed nearly all these works and next year, distraught, Rose returned to Springwood.

From about 1958 she lived with her daughter Janet at Hunters Hill, Sydney. In her late seventies Rose began to write. Ma and Pa (1963), was the first of her two volumes of autobiography. The second was Model Wife (1967). They were reprinted in 2001 as Rose Lindsay: A Model Life, edited by Lin Bloomfield. Her books, which revealed a particular interest in bodies, adolescent and adult, recounted how she balanced the demands of home and children with managing an often difficult marital relationship. The books also contributed significantly to the Lindsay legend.

Norman died in 1969. In February 1973 the property at Springwood was purchased by the National Trust of Australia and opened to the public as the Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum. Rose Lindsay died on 23 May 1978 at the Caroline Chisholm Nursing Home, Lane Cove, and was cremated. Her two daughters survived her. She was fondly remembered for her dry wit and vivacious temperament.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Hetherington, Norman Lindsay (Melb, 1973)
  • Norman Lindsay, Master Craftsman Etcher: Rose Lindsay, Master Etching Printmaker, exhibition catalogue (Syd, 1974)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Nov 1969, p 6, 24 May 1978, p 8
  • H. de Berg, taped interview with Rose Lindsay (transcript, 1965, National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Ana Carden-Coyne, 'Lindsay, Rose (1885–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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