Artist's Biography

Ruby Lindsay was born at Creswick, Victoria on 20 March 1885. She was known as as illustrator, cartoonist and painter. Ruby was born into an artistic family with three of her brothers (Norman, Lionel, and Percy Lindsay) also being highly regarded artists.

Ruby was the seventh child and second daughter of Robert Charles William Alexander Lindsay (1843-1915), a surgeon from Londonderry, Ireland, and his wife Jane Elizabeth (1848-1932), the daughter of Reverend Thomas Williams, a Wesleyan missionary.

Ruby’s father Robert, after graduating in medicine from the University of Glasgow, sailed as a medical officer on the Red Rose, reaching Melbourne on 16 June 1864. He began to work as a surgeon at Creswick in regional Victoria. On 18 May 1869 Robert Lindsay married Jane Williams at Ballarat.

Their sons were educated at the local state school and at Creswick Grammar School. Ruby’s brothers, Percy, Lionel and Norman in turn edited the “Boomerang”, the school’s unofficial magazine.

The Lindsay children were amazingly artistic with five of the siblings, including Ruby, following creative pursuits. Their early interest in art was encouraged by their maternal grandfather who took them on regular visits to the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery where Norman’s imagination was fired by Solomon J. Solomon’s powerful painting “Ajax and Cassandra”.

Photographs taken by her brother Norman, record Ruby at age 15 joining in with the bohemian back garden and theatrical frolics at Creswick with the Lindsay brothers and their friends, the Dyson brothers, including Will who was later to become Ruby’s husband.

Ruby was completely dedicated to becoming an artist and encouraged by her elder sister Mary, left home for Melbourne in 1901 when she was 16, ostensibly to live with and keep house for her eldest brother Percy, but in reality it was to study art at the National Gallery School in Melbourne.

Ruby, very talented and already quite accomplished, was easily drawn into the world of freelance black and white illustration and made a steady but humble income as an illustrator for the “Hawklet”, the fourth member of her family to become a staff artist for this police gazette.

She worked with great dedication, made her own clothes, and lived off the meagre income she made from illustration and the one pound that her sister Mary sent her each week.

Wishing to follow her own path and not ride on the reputation of her well-known Lindsay brothers, Ruby took to signing her works ‘Ruby Lind’.

In 1905, when she was 20 years old, Ruby designed the cover for “The Waddy”, a publication that ran for only one issue. It also included a full-page drawing by Will Dyson. The next year Ruby illustrated William Moore’s “Studio Sketches”.

In November 1906, Ruby’s brother Lionel married Jean Dyson, whose three brothers, Ted, Will and Ambrose, had managed to survive with freelance writing and illustration, and she became close to the Dyson family.

From 1906 to 1908 she joined the Dyson’s in drawing illustrations and cartoons for the Adelaide satirical journal magazine, “The Gadfly” (1906-08), edited by C.J. Dennis and A.E. Martin. Her cover illustration from 27 March 1907, which showed a young woman crossing the street being ogled by a line of men, could have been drawn from her own experience as she was acutely embarrassed by the attention her beauty received. Of shy disposition, Ruby was regarded as the beauty of the Lindsay family and was described by Henry Tonks as “the most beautiful creature I ever looked at”.

Ruby’s illustrations were also published in the Sydney-based “Bulletin” and “Lone Hand”. She became a regular illustrator for Steele Rudd’s Magazine and with Ruth Simpson and Ashton Murphy, she illustrated “Back at Our Selection” (1906), providing 11 drawings. At the 1907 “Women’s Work Exhibition” in Melbourne, Ruby Lind’s Book Lovers’ Library poster was awarded first prize; she also won a silver medal and a special prize for best Design exhibit. She designed the First Class Diploma certificate awarded at the exhibition (a group of allegorical women). Ruby Lind’s cartoon on the exhibition for the “Bulletin” was the only cartoon on the exhibition identified as being by a woman artist.

Her work was beginning to attract critical attention. William Moore noted in the “Native Companion” from 2 December 1907: “She has turned out every variety of drawing, from book illustrations to designs for pantomimic costumes. As the designer of the prize diploma and the prize poster exhibited at the Women’s Exhibition, Ruby Lindsay must realise that she has already made a distinct advance.” Moore later interviewed her for “New Idea” (6 December 1907, page 848) as a successful woman black and white artist who: ‘tried every form of black and white, from the poster to the bookplate’. Haldane MacFall described her as: “one of the most remarkable women-artists with pen-line now living” in his 1911 publication “A History of Painting”.

When Percy Lindsay married in 1906 Ruby could no longer maintain the pretence of being his housekeeper, a fiction that amused her siblings because she was notoriously uninterested in domestic duties. She was however determined to make her own path and maintained an aggressive indifference to the attentions of men who claimed they wished to further her career.

With the help of her sister Mary, Ruby found other lodgings in Melbourne and her drawings remained in demand. She was also an active member of the lively circle of artists, journalists, writers, barristers, and musicians that met regularly at Fasoli’s restaurant.

Around this time Will Dyson became a persistent admirer of Ruby. On 30 September 1909, when she was 24 years old, Ruby married Will Dyson at Creswick and in October they sailed for London via Colombo, accompanied by Ruby’s famous artist brother Norman Lindsay. Will and Norman had organized large and successful exhibitions in Australia of their cartoon work prior to sailing to fund their overseas trip. Both men went to London, hoping to find further recognition of their work abroad.

While Will found it easy to fit into English society, Norman disliked London and when in 1910 Norman was joined by his new partner Rose Soady the relationship between him and Will and Ruby became strained when they declined to meet Rose an account of Norman and Rose living together out of marriage. Rose and Norman returned to Australia and regrettably Ruby never spoke to them again.

In London Ruby and Will Dyson collaborated on black-and-white illustrations and posters. Will concentrated on the figures while Ruby drew landscape backgrounds. Dyson also developed his career as a political cartoonist and caricaturist. Ruby continued to paint fans and illustrated children’s books such as “Naughty Sophia” published in London in 1912. She also sent drawings back to Australia for publications such as the “Lone Hand” and the “Bulletin”.

Ruby’s feminist instincts came to the fore and she began to draw political cartoons for Christabel Pankhurst’s “The Suffragette” as well as posters supporting socialist causes. One of her most arresting images was a lithograph poster produced in about 1912 with the slogan: “Mothers! ‘Make the World Fit for Me: Vote Labour”. The subject was a small naked girl with arms outstretched, presumably based on her only child and daughter Elizabeth Dyson (1911-1956) (known as Betty) who was born on 11 September in 1911 when Ruby was 26 years old.

During World War I Ruby stayed in London caring for her daughter Betty while Will became Australia’s first official war artist. From family accounts it appears that she deprived herself to ensure that Betty’s health did not suffer with wartime rationing.

After the war in 1919 Ruby travelled with her younger brother Daryl to visit cousins in Belfast and Dublin. During the visit to Ireland, Ruby caught the Spanish influenza virus, a pandemic sweeping Europe, and tragically died in Chelsea, London a few days later, on 12 March 1919, only 8 days shy of her 34th Birthday. Ruby’s death at the young age of 33 cut short the promise of a very successful career. She was buried on London at Hendon Cemetery and the name on her tombstone read “Ruby Lind”. When he husband Will Dyson died in 1938, he was buried in the same grave as Ruby.

Ruby Lindsay’s art was preserved through the combined efforts of her husband Will Dyson, sister Mary, and her brothers Lionel and Daryl.  Shortly after her death, her widowed husband Will Dyson published “Poems: In Memory of a Wife” (1919) and also edited “The Drawings of Ruby Lind” (1920) published by Cecil Palmer in London in 1920. Ruby’s siblings ensured that examples of her original drawings entered public collections, mainly the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria. Ruby’s brother Daryl Lindsay, who had turned to art after he became will Dyson’s batman in France, ensured that this sister was remembered in his memoir, “The Leafy Tree” published in Melbourne in 1965.

Due to Ruby’s short life, her beautiful works are extremely scarce and hardly ever surface for sale.