Detail photos for this Artwork
This beautiful pencil portrait features one of Norman Lindsay’s famed models, Rita. Pencil portraits of Rita are exceedingly rare.
Norman Lindsay’s address book at his art studio at Bridge Street in Sydney was filled with the names and addresses of over 130 models and there has always been speculation about Norman’s relationships with his models. However, in a letter to his sister Mary, Norman stated: “I never put an amorous hand on a model. To do that would have destroyed the unuttered pact between artist and model. … The artist who squanders desire on her body has debilitated the urge to replicate its desirability in paint”.
It was not until the late 1930’s that Norman found his ‘perfect model’, Rita Lee. Rita modelled for Norman from 1938 until 1942, when she married artist and photographer George Young. Rita was 18 when she began modelling and she had worked for other artists for about a year before she was introduced to Norman Lindsay. She remembers being very nervous as she walked up the stairs to his studio, but this quickly disappeared when the door was opened by “a little man with beautiful blue dancing eyes who had a palette and brushes in his hand”.
As for Norman, this is what he said of Rita: “One of those, at least, arrived as the perfect model for the métier of oil painting. That was Rita, a quiet reticent girl who seldom spoke, but who secreted within her all those emotional intensities from which any variation on the feminine image may be extracted.”
Norman was considerate to his models and although he rarely stopped working himself, he insisted that his models have adequate rest periods. There was always a cup of tea waiting for Rita when she arrived at his studio. Rita described posing for Norman as being like “making a film with some wonderful film director”.
Rita’s mother was Spanish and her father Chinese and her unusual colouring appealed to Norman; he called it “buttery coloured”. She was tall and long limbed with dark, glossy shoulder length hair and slightly slanted soft brown eyes. Jane Lindsay, Norman’s daughter, described Rita during a visit to Springwood: “Serenity was her outstanding attribute. She talked very little and almost in a whisper … hardly making her presence known – graceful and quiet. She managed to make a kitchen chair look like a throne”.