The New Ivanhoe Hotel stands on the Great Western Highway at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. It has changed very little over the years. There are still signs of its art-deco interior, albeit a bit faded.
A NEW ATTRACTION AT THE IVANHOE
In the autumn of 1949 there was a mysterious rise in the number of patrons at the pub. An eye popping portrait of a curvy lady dubbed Mollie had appeared in the lounge. She was pictured with a cup of tea, naked except for what were referred to as hiking socks! The painting was signed by the well known artist Norman Lindsay (1879-1969), who lived further down the Mountains at Springwood. Lindsay was famous for his voluptuous nudes, which were much disapproved of by straight laced people he called ‘wowsers’.
The only image I’ve been able to find of the painting is from a contemporary newspaper article. It’s very grainy and sadly, her socks aren’t visible.
The proprietor of the hotel, Bob Palmer, said he had decided a nude would improve business. He found the signed Lindsay in Sydney. On the back of the painting was the inscription; Study in Nude, Exhibition 1912. There certainly was a Society of Artists Exhibition, opening in Sydney on November 20 1912. It was Palmer himself who came up with the name Mollie.
Blackheathens considered Mollie a worthy rival to Chloe, the famous French nude which has been gracing Young and Jackson’s hotel in Melbourne since1909.
Mollie’s hiking socks were viewed as a bonus, a tribute to the walking tracks and spectacular scenery around Blackheath. But was she a genuine Lindsay lady?
ROSE LINDSAY SPEAKS OUT
As Norman Lindsay was ill at the time, his wife (and former model) Rose (1885-1978) travelled to Blackheath to inspect the picture. She immediately wired a newspaper in Sydney; ‘Have seen picture. Definitely not Norman’s.’ When she returned home she rang them with a longer and more scathing report; ‘It’s so bad it can’t be Norman’s. He’s never painted anything so badly as that. The signature is a forgery. Norman could never paint the glaring eyes or the double chin that this woman has. While I was examining the picture a man in the hotel said the figure looked like a horse. Another man said it was a ‘woeful’ thing. It has no construction. I am familiar with all of Norman’s work, particularly the 1912 period, and this is definitely not Norman’s.
Rose was a fierce protector of her husband’s reputation. She said she had purchased and destroyed other fake pictures, but it was becoming a prohibitively expensive exercise.
When Norman Lindsay was well enough he too inspected the painting. Oddly enough, he said he recognized the model. However, after studying the canvas for about three minutes he confirmed that it wasn’t his work. The signature (in capitals, bottom centre) was not the way he signed his canvases. Also, the technique was different. Thirdly, the colouring was too dark, with a lot of burnt umber which he never used.
He said Mollie should be burned, and offered to exchange it for an authentic work; ‘I don’t want to see Mr Palmer victimized by having a false signature on the painting. He can choose another painting from my own collection. I don’t know whether he wants another nude. The painting is quite good, but it isn’t mine.’ Nevertheless, Bob Palmer did have some excellent Norman Lindsay etchings, which pleased the artist. He commented; ‘I’m delighted to see an interest in art developing in public houses.’
Lindsay also had a theory about the painting’s origin; ‘When I do a painting I usually make a careful oil study of the subject first, and then make the final work on another canvas. Then I usually give the study to an interested student. I think that someone else must have got hold of one of these and copied it.’
The publican, Mr Bob Palmer, was undecided about accepting Lindsay’s offer of a genuine painting. He said that a syndicate of Sydney businessmen had offered him more than £40,000 for the hotel, but only if the delectable Mollie was thrown in. He said; ‘There’s no ill-feeling between me and Mr Lindsay and I can appreciate his feelings, but if I lose Mollie I’ll lose most of my present trade. Our lounge normally holds 70 people, but now about 170 is the average lounge attendance.’
As the dispute raged on, a newspaper article revealed that another hotel had decided to get into the action.
There’s another [naked woman] now at Bernie Bracken’s Blue Mountains Hotel, Lawson – a nude study of Polly. Some people reckon the two are sisters. They’re doing more for tourism in the mountains than a fist full of pamphlets.
I visited the Ivanhoe recently, and a friendly staff member told me she was sure the painting was still there. But no, much to my disappointment we couldn’t find her. There was a fine, buxom lady on the wall, but it wasn’t Mollie in her hiking socks.
I later spoke to Kerry Ray, proprietor of The Ivanhoe for the past forty years. She has no memory of the painting, or the story surrounding it. Regretfully, a phone call confirmed there is no longer a nude painting in the Blue Mountains Hotel at Lawson either.
We are left with two questions. One – where is Mollie? Two – where is Polly?
I would like to acknowledge TROVE, the digitised, on-line archive of Australian newspapers. The story of Mollie would never have come to light without this wonderful, free resource.
For more on Norman Lindsay and his home at Springwood
FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW, ESPECIALLY IF YOU CAN SHED ANY LIGHT ON THE WHEREABOUTS OF THE TWO PICTURES.