A darn good Toowoomba yarn: Lionel Lindsay, Bill Bolton, and Cobb and Co

A darn good Toowoomba yarn: Lionel Lindsay, Bill Bolton, and Cobb and Co

Last week, Curator Historical International Art, Dr Mark Stocker, introduced us to Australian artist Lionel Lindsay and the famous Cobb and Co print. Here, Mark continues his story.

Companion prints

Swagmen, like the Cobb & Co stagecoaches discussed in part 1 of this blog, were an endangered species in Australia in the 1920s. Invariably Lindsay depicts them as elderly, grizzled, shabby yet indomitable.

Lionel Lindsay, Mates, 1922. Gift of Mrs Harold Wright, 1965. Reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia. Te Papa (1965-0012-175)

Curator Lizzie Bisley observes: ‘Tramping through a desolate Australian landscape, they are a tribute to a unique model of antipodean masculinity’.

A princely printmaker

The ink had barely dried on Lindsay’s prints when he rose to eminence – and wealth – in the final flourish of the Etching Revival, with sell-out exhibitions at Wright’s posh Bond Street dealer-gallery Colnaghi’s.

Lionel Lindsay, The crab, 1931. Gift of Mrs Harold Wright, 1965. Reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia. Te Papa (1965-0012-113)

Lindsay was knighted in 1941, but by then Sir Lionel was the angry old man of the Australian art world.

Addled Art

In the early 1940s, the print market had collapsed, the nation had sold its soul to the socialism of a Labor government, and modern art had made irreversible inroads into Australian culture. What a catastrophe! Lindsay’s response was to write the short book Addled Art (1942) where he denounced modernism.

Lionel Lindsay, Addled Art, 1942 (1946 edition). Te Aka Matua Research Library. Te Papa

Vituperative and nastily anti-Semitic it certainly is, but he also mourns the loss of craftsmanship in art, due to the downgrading of drawing. Perhaps he had a point.

Lindsay on stamps

Flash forward ten years. Sir Lionel had long laid down his etching needle. But then Cobb and Co. was rediscovered and inspired two 1955 postage stamps commemorating the mail services of yesteryear.

The surface printing process for stamps admirably conveys drypoint, and the result is remarkably attractive and dignified.

Australia 19th century Royal Mail Cobb and Co stamps, 1955 (Rosebed’s Stamp Shop)

Stamps were big in 1955. Every other schoolboy and not a few schoolgirls collected them. As cultural signifiers, saying ‘This is Australia’, stamps spoke volumes and the two-shilling value for overseas postage made their reach global.

Enter Bill Bolton

Queensland transport haulier and businessman William ‘Bill’ Bolton (1905-73) was excited and delighted by the stamps. An intelligent, ruggedly individualistic, down to earth, self-made Toowoomba man, he knew a good stamp when he saw one.

William ‘Bill’ Bolton, c. 1960. (Cobb & Co Museum, Toowoomba)

He would have been especially chuffed to have read Cobb and Co on the stamps. This was the very name of his own thriving South Queensland motor haulage enterprise, inspired by the original firm.

Like Lindsay, he was a passionate aficionado of bygone Australia and loved the old coaches themselves, amassing a collection of 28.

They now form the nucleus of the Cobb + Co Museum in Toowoomba.

Historic wagons, Cobb & Co Museum, Toowoomba, Queensland. (Wikimedia Commons)

What happened next…

There are two versions of the story. The first is appealing, a letter to the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, on the following lines: ‘Dear Bob, These Cobb and Co stamps are corker! Can you ask the bloke whose picture they’re of to get hold of me quick smart? I want to buy the original! Many thanks. Yours, Bill’.

Sir Robert Menzies, 1950s. National Library of Australia

More likely Bolton, who was highly literate and undoubtedly aware of Lindsay as an illustrator and artist, asked a mutual friend Eric Bedford – son of Lindsay’s Cobb & Co cobber back in 1897 – to contact the great man. The rest is history.

Bill and Sir Lionel

‘That’s a real beaut picture you’ve got there, Sir Lionel. I want one framed, to hang in the office. How does £500 sound?’ ‘Bill, if I may, that’s twice the normal price of a standard impression. It’s a deal! Now, let me show you some of my other works!’

Bolton had progressed from collecting coaches to a wider representation of the nation’s pioneer heritage: journals of South Seas exploration, of the First Fleet and inland expeditions, literature of the Lawson/ Paterson era, and accounts of Anzac heroism in World War One. And now of course, thanks to Lindsay, there was the art.

Algernon Talmadge, The Founding of Australia, 1937. (State Library of New South Wales)

A growing collection

We don’t know how many artworks were acquired over the next five years but a typescript in the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery collection dated December 1960 lists 243 prints; and there were paintings besides. It grew to over 500 in Bolton’s lifetime.

Bill Boulton beside Ivor Hele, The lights of Cobb and Co., about 1960-63. Lindsay Collection Photographs – Toowoomba Regional Council

The nucleus was obviously by Lionel Lindsay, but rogue brother Norman (and his erotic prints!) were also on Bolton’s radar. Lionel and a third distinguished brother, National Gallery of Victoria director Sir Daryl Lindsay, gave professional guidance to Bill and the equally enthusiastic Marion Bolton and their budding collection.

A ‘damn fine chap’

Lindsay himself, now well into his eighties, was naturally over the moon. He wrote: ‘We’ve got a damn good country… and some damn fine chaps working. Bill Bolton’s one of them… [He] is a real Australian, he admires the Australian spirit by collecting art, which starts, of course, in painting with Roberts and Streeton, the actual painting of the native born… Australia wants more men like him…[and] he wants the Australians… to grow up with a love of their own country and to know of its traditions…’.

For Christmas 1956, Lindsay sent Bolton a copy of Addled Art inscribed: ‘To my friend W.R.F. Bolton, lover of the real Australia and sane art’.

Towards a new museum

To properly fulfill its didactic role, all this art needed physical housing. In the best Cobb & Co ‘can-do’ spirit, Bolton’s friends, family, and staff assisted him. Though inexperienced in administering art collections, they compensated with their enthusiasm. They converted an old bungalow into…

The Lionel Art Gallery and Library, Toowoomba

4 April 1959 was the proudest day of Bill Bolton’s life, and a glowing moment in Lionel Lindsay’s grumpy old age. The new gallery was officially opened by none other than long-serving conservative prime minister Sir Robert Menzies.

Sir Lionel Lindsay and Sir Robert Menzies, Lionel Lindsay Museum and Art Gallery, Toowoomba, 4 April 1959. (Lindsay Collection Photographs – Toowoomba Regional Council)

In his speech, Menzies hoped ‘that the people would… find it a place that would stir pride in their own country, and fire the imagination, which was always stimulated by looking at great pictures and drawings’. A ‘true repository of the national spirit’ is another description.

Coda

That ‘national spirit’ has subsequently been deconstructed, indeed rubbished by postcolonial scholars. Few people care about stamps any more: the Cobb and Co pair changes hands in mint condition for $3.

Lindsay has suffered too, perhaps deservedly, for Addled Art and its attacks on ‘Jewish Bolshevism’. But aesthetic and moral values shouldn’t be conflated his prints remain superb.

And I wish it were otherwise, but art museums these days rarely experience the old-school generosity of a bloke like Bill Bolton.

Fortunately, all this hasn’t quite been forgotten: Bolton’s remarkable collection was incorporated in 1994 into the purpose-built Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery (TRAG), whose website tells us that it is ‘the permanent home to the Lionel Lindsay Art Gallery and Library’.

Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, Queensland. (Queensland.com)

I am very grateful to Jayson Althofer, who combines his day job as Bolton Library Services Officer at TRAG with independent scholarship on Lindsay and Bolton, for enabling me to tell this story.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you so much for your blog. I have long been an admirer of the talented Lindsay family that liived in Creswick near Ballarat. The Ballarat Fine Art Gallery has a room depicting the living room of the Lindsay home at Creswick. Norman Lindsay was inspired in his style of painting the female figure when on a visit to the Ballarat gallery with his grandfather, a retired missionary! He was intrigued by a large painting, titled ‘Ajax and Cassandra’ which depicted an unclothed Cassandra draped over the shoulder of Ajax. Norman also produced the delightful Magic Pudding series of books.
    As a former Wairarapa lad (more than three score and 10 years ago), I would like to make a small request. I would love to find out more about the Greytown-born and Wellington-trained artist Rland Wakelin. Could Te Papa oblige? .

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