Phar Lap, by Daryl Lindsay 1932; Museum Victoria collection
I’m attending a conference later this year called ‘The Afterlives of Pastoral’, and my paper will be focusing on some of the things we have discussed previously on this blog, like the idealisation of the bush in the works of Banjo Patterson and others, and, more specifically, the role that the horse plays in these constructions.
When I came across the above print, part of the collection of Museum Victoria, I was struck by the overwhelmingly bucolic atmosphere pervading the work. If you didn’t recognise the name in the title, or the iconic big red horse himself, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it might have been painted a hundred years prior to its actual execution in 1932.
The artist was Daryl Lindsay, younger brother of Norman, and an artist in his own right. Prior to taking up art, Lindsay worked as a jackaroo in Queensland in the years preceeding WWI, and following his retirement he returned to the life of the bush, sketching the cattlemen of the Northern Territory in the 1960s. However unlike either of his artist brothers Lionel or Norman, Daryl did not work for the nationalistic publication the Bulletin.
In the above portrait Phar Lap was painted from life by Lindsay, though the print was not published until after Phar Lap’s death, when it appeared as a colour supplement in the Sporting Globe. The experience of painting Phar Lap was not to be Lindsay’s last with the horse. In 1941, Lindsay became the Director of the National Gallery of Victoria, the same venue that housed the mounted hide of the venerated horse. During his Directorship, it seems Lindsay was frustrated by the popularity of the Phar Lap mount, which exceeded the popularity of the artworks themselves. This was amusingly depicted in 1954 by Eric Thake in his cartoon, “Gallery Director, or ‘This way to Phar Lap'”.
Gallery Director, or ‘This way to Phar lap’, by Eric Thake 1954; Museum Victoria collection
This print always brings a smile to my face; not only is it funny in it’s own right, but it’s amazing how things have not changed in the 60 years since it was created. People continue to worship at the ‘altar’ of Phar Lap, particularly embodied by the skin but also increasingly by the heart and skeleton too. Phar Lap’s heart is the most requested object at the National Museum of Australia, and acts as a testament to the ongoing popularity of the horse.
I wonder what Daryl Lindsay would have to say about that?