Norman Lindsay’s Startled Virgins

Norman Lindsay (1879 – 1969) Is one of Australia’s most immediately recognisable artists. He was also an etcher, sculptor, writer, art critic, novelist, cartoonist and amateur boxer. As with many artists, it’s possible to draw out certain themes and motifs that run through their work.

In this case the Startled Virgin.

This takes roughly two forms

The first is when a young woman is surprised at some suggestion, we must assume of an erotic nature, that has been made to her by a close friend or a sister.

The second when she witnesses something that she has not seen before. She is shocked, but she is also fascinated.

Both represent moments of awakening and all are recurrent motifs in Lindsay’s work.

It is a moment that obviously attracted his artistic attention and which he explores in settings both bucolic and aquatic.


There is something happening outside the frame of the picture that the elder sister is explaining to the fascinated and wide-eyed younger sister. There is sense of erotic curiosity in the connection between the two young women which is a common theme in these etchings.

It’s probably a story for all time with sisters and friends sharing experiences and passing on dirty secrets.

In the next picture, a woman is reliving the previous night’s amorous adventures to her somewhat surprised younger companion.

The Olympian goddesses watch, in bemused indifference, from above.

And then, there is what appears to be the girl’s night out or perhaps some form of initiation ceremony, involving nipples, that was never really properly explained.

The young woman in the centre looks decidedly uneasy about the sexual ritual in which she is being drawn into. We can only imagine the narrative leading into and out of this picture.

Another interesting aspect of the startled virgin is when she confronts another self or some element of her own psyche.

Here the virgin is wandering in the woods at night and meets a nyad, a spirit who dwells in rivers and lakes. Both are equally surprised to see each other. The theme of confronting demons is one that surfaces frequently in Lindsay’s work.

Finding and coming to terms with the water spirits is seen in another painting. The swimmers only have refuge on a rock and are in different stages of embracing their various spirits.

There is another interesting figure in these drawings and paintings. It is the seductress/ guardian.

You allAll will

In the painting on the left, the seductress endeavours to convince and cajole a demure, reluctant and naked virgin. To what, we can only guess. But in the right-hand picture, the shocked virgin and the guardian are clearly having nothing of it.

The Startled Virgins will all grow and embrace their futures.

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