National Treasures - The Magic Pudding Illustrations
Norman Lindsay was one of our most famous artists. He was also a sculptor and a painter, but above all he was a bohemian. Norman loved to stir the conservatives, or the 'wowsers', as he called them. And one of his favourite ways to do that was to paint provocative — some say even blasphemous — pictures of … women. So why is it one of our best-known artists, who's renowned for painting infamous … pictures, is best remembered for this little guy, The Magic Pudding — the main character of one of Australia's best-loved children's books?
The Magic Pudding, first published in 1918, tells the story of Albert, the never-ending pudding, and his owner's constant battles against the low-down puddin' thieves.
Norman Lindsay's original illustrations for The Magic Pudding are held at the State Library of NSW.
Like many Australian kids, I grew up in love with The Magic Pudding. So much so that when I was about 15 it inspired me to have a go at writing and illustrating my own kids' book. And even though I thought Gerald the Green Tree Goanna was pretty good in its day, I don't think in 100 years people will be looking at this as a National Treasure. But the reason I have my white gloves on is to show you these eight volumes which contain 95 original drawings that Norman Lindsay did for The Magic Pudding. I'd love to show all of them — they're magnificent — but I'll just show you a few.
Look at this. This is the cover of The Magic Pudding. It's a watercolour with a bit of ink around the edges. A beautiful piece of work. And then we turn the page — the second drawing is completely different. It's this very fine penmanship, and this is something that Norman Lindsay was renowned for. And the next page is different again. A much looser style of drawing. It's drawn with a waxed crayon or a chinagraph pencil. And that's the beauty of The Magic Pudding, is that there's this great diversity in media and style all the way through the book. Let's have a look at this drawing. This is a simple pencil drawing of koalas having their dinner or breakfast. And I can tell you as a cartoonist, koalas are a very difficult thing to extract a personality from. That's one of the things Lindsay was great at. He could bring out all sorts of personality from different Australian animals.
Cartoonist James Kemsley is an authority on The Magic Pudding.
James, how did The Magic Pudding come about?
Well, there's the legend, of course, that Norman had after-dinner discussions with Bert Stevens from the Bulletin, that Bert reckoned that kids would prefer to see or read a book about fairies and elves and those sort of things. Norman was insistent kids only cared about food, and of course he made this funny little bet that he'd write a book and Bert would write a book and let's see which would sell the most.
Norman won the alleged bet. Children loved that piece of rude food, Albert — the Magic Pudding — and the very Australian story.
There's some very funny things. He's got an expression where he says, ‘Wipe the smile off a boiled egg’. I just think that's wonderful.
That's part of it. The language. Like, ‘What are you looking at, Poodle's Whiskers?’ And all those sorts of great … So, James, why is The Magic Pudding Norman Lindsay's best-loved work?
Probably because his major character is the typical Australian larrikin. And Norman somehow — whether he did it intentionally or he did it quite accidentally — probably hit on the first Australian antihero, and it's stayed with us ever since.
Most of history's famous artists would have painted the female [figure] at some stage or another. And Norman Lindsay was no exception. He drew, etched and sketched hundreds of them. But there's only one Magic Pudding. The book was the start of a local folk tradition, and Norman Lindsay's unforgettable characters were a stroke of genius. His eight volumes of drawings have captured the imagination of generations of kids. These original works of art are National Treasures.