Best known as the author of Picnic at Hanging Rock , Joan Lindsay began her creative life as a painter in Melbourne. Despite her adult fame as an author and being married to a prominent member of the Lindsay family of artists, her own artistic life has been overlooked by many art historians, including those with a special interest in womens’ art.
Joan Lindsay was born Joan a’Beckett Weigall on 16 November 1896 in St Kilda East, Melbourne. She was the daughter of Sir Theyre a’ Beckett Weigall and Annie Sophia Henrietta Hamilton. Her parents socialised with many of the National Gallery of Victoria’s early trustees including Professor Sir Baldwin Spencer. Joan’s father was a well respected lawyer (later a judge) and was involved in the establishment of the National Gallery of Victoria’s, Felton Bequest. Joan was related to the Boyd art family, and the potter Martin Boyd was her cousin.
After leaving school she enrolled in art classes at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). From 1916 to 1918 Joan was a pupil of Frederick McCubbin at the NGV’s, School of Drawing. Under his instruction she copied endless antique plaster casts of classical origin mostly using charcoal, this being a compulsory requirement before being allowed to enter the life and painting class. In 1919 Joan studied life drawing and painting under the head of the art school, Bernard Hall .
While she barely mentioned her art career in her memoirs, Joan wrote of her art training in a posthumously published article in the magazine, Overland . This article, based on a 1960s lecture, offers a fascinating insight into Australian art education during the early years of the twentieth century, although rarely mentions her own artistic achievements. As her art school training was undertaken during World War I nearly all her fellow students were women although things changed at the end of the war. One notable male student at the School of Painting in 1919 was the artist Godfrey Miller .
By early 1920 Joan had a studio in Bourke Street, Melbourne and she had a solo exhibition of her landscape work at the Decoration Company’s gallery in Collins Street, Melbourne in July 1920. This exhibition of oils and watercolour was positively reviewed in The Argus (12 July 1920, p 9):
'A strong feeling for the beauty of panoramic views is conveyed in some sketches of subjects of this character painted in the neighbourhood of Greensborough and Warrandyte. Some pictures in which the human figure, and in others ducks and geese are introduced, add variety, and show a decided interest in the decorative placing of figures, and also have much charm of colour… In water-colour, Miss Weigall shows several examples notable for breadth of handling united to charm of colour.’
During 1920 the artist shared her studio with her close friend Maie Ryan (later Lady Maie Casey ). This shared studio was described by Joan in her memoir Time Without Clocks (p 206):
'Before either of us was married we had shared a studio in Bourke Street somewhere near Spencer Street Station – not a party giving studio but a big dusty room – it never entered our heads to dust it – where in frenzied bursts of amateur energy we really worked away at our drawing. We even wrote a book together about the ballet dancer called Anna… When we got bored with the illustrations for Anna or painstaking drawing of Miss Minty – a professional model who only consented to sit if the poses were not what she called 'rude’ – we would take our 'Greyhounds’ (packets of cheap coloured chalks) and go off somewhere by tram sketch out of doors.’
Around this time Joan and Maie Ryan held an exhibition titled, 'The Neo-Pantechnicists’. This portentous title was, according to Maie Ryan, a 'leg-pull’, but with the support of Rosemary Reynolds and Ethel Spowers the exhibition was a sell out with prices between two shillings and five guineas.
Soon after leaving the art school Joan met Daryl Lindsay at M.J. MacNally’s Melbourne studio in Bourke Street, and Daryl soon became a regular visitor at her studio. By this time Daryl Lindsay (a member of the large family of artists) had become interested in art and the couples shared interest led to an emotional attachment. Joan and Daryl were married on Valentines Day 1922 in London. After returning from their European honeymoon Joan and Daryl continued to paint together although she soon stepped back from art in favour of writing short stories, novels and memoir.
Joan Lindsay exhibited some of her work at exhibitions of the Victorian Artists’ Society (VAS) in the early 1920s. Two works were mentioned by the prominent critic J.S. MacDonald in his review of the 1922 VAS exhibition published in Art in Australia :
'Joan Weigall Lindsay exhibits two Riviera watercolours. The larger of the two is attacked with boldness and decision refreshing to see, and the decorative impression of the steep face of the hill on which all the values “close” has been well maintained. Mrs. Lindsay has plenty of courage and enterprise.’
Joan Lindsay held a joint exhibition of her watercolours with her husband in 1924 at the Fine Art Society Gallery in Melbourne. The only (known) published image of her work was a watercolour titled 'Gum Tree’, which was reproduced in black and white in the June 1925 'Daryl Lindsay’ issue of Art in Australia .
Daryl only mentions Joan’s art practice once in his own autobiography ( A Leafy Tree , p 128), and this comment is rather derogatory:
'Hers [Joan Lindsay] was only a minor talent but she had much more intuitive and mature judgement than most of the other students [at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School], and a lively inquiring mind.’
From 1941 to 1956 Joan’s husband was the director of the National Gallery of Victoria and during much of that time she worked as his part time administrative assistant. In 1957 Daryl was knighted and Joan became known as Lady Lindsay.
Although a well known writer Joan continued to paint in oil and watercolour after abandoning her short lived professional career. Popular themes with the artist were beach scenes and landscapes. In late 1972 Joan Lindsay and her old friend Maie Casey held a joint exhibition of their painting at the McClelland Gallery, Langwarrin near Mulberry Hill . This was described in Maie Casey’s biography, Glittering Surfaces , as 'a historical rather than a commercial exhibition’. During the early 1980s artist Rick Amor lived on her Mulberry Hill property and he illustrated her last book, Syd Sixpence (1982). Joan Lindsay died on 23 December 1984, at Frankston, Victoria.