James E Lyle … a lost art

Last week I gave an insight into my Granny Morley (that is my great grandmother, Anna Maria Morley (1873-1958)) and how she influenced her immediate family as well as the legacy she passed on to her descendants. I mentioned that she was the type of person who saw a need and did her best to meet that need. That wasn’t confined to her family alone. One of the ‘needs’ that Granny came across was in the person of James (Jimmy) E Lyle. Jimmy was born in Brisbane, Queensland in 1924. As a child he lived with his family in and around South Brisbane and Wooloongabba. Granny got to know the family when they came to live in her street, Connor Street, Kangaroo Point.

The story goes that, as a child Jimmy had shown an artistic talent which Granny identified at an early stage. Granny felt so strongly that this talent should be nurtured, she paid for Jimmy to go to art school. Jimmy had a career in art for the rest of his life. He first studied art at the Central Technical College in Brisbane from 1937–39, the Press Art School in London from 1952-53 and The Julien Perren Art Academy in Paris 1953. Jimmy traveled extensively in Europe and England and lived and worked in New Zealand but eventually settled back in his home town, Brisbane. His exhibitions include the Johnstone Gallery, Brisbane, 1948, Auckland Art Gallery, 1958, and International Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1973.

Jimmy also won a number of awards for his paintings, including the Warana Art Award City of Ipswich 1981, and the Cultural Centre Queensland Award in 1982. He worked as a painter, portraitist, commercial artist and graphic designer. In 1957 and 58, Lyle designed three Australian stamps for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Charles Kingsford Smith. In addition, he designed a Christmas greeting card series while working in New Zealand.

He kept in touch with the Morley family throughout his life and the family were very proud of his achievements. His photo and his paintings were proudly displayed and he was often talked about at family gatherings. Even as I was growing up there would be updates on what Jimmy Lyle was doing. He was family.

As far as I know, Jimmy didn’t marry. By the 1960s, though, he was living in Moorooka, Brisbane, with two family members, Edna and Robert Lyle. This is where he had his studio for many years. As I was researching him I found that he lived on a road, that as a child, our family frequently used. I attended Moorooka State School during my primary school years which was about 2 kilometres away, on that road. In all that time we never realised (at least, I didn’t. My parents may have.) we were driving right past Jimmy’s house – to visit Aunty Elsie and Aunty Vera at Kangaroo Point. I have to admit that I never met Jimmy personally, or if I did, I was too young to remember. Because he was spoken of so often and affectionately, especially by my great aunts, I felt I knew him. There was a photo of a young Jimmy in military uniform that took pride of place in the Morley family home. Sadly, that photo has been lost. Probably for all time. He looked very handsome and had a neatly trimmed moustache. For me, he will always be that young man.

I remember that under Granny’s house, there were some bits of rock in a container. They were very hard and sharp. We were told that Jimmy had climbed the Matterhorn (Switzerland) and chipped off pieces and brought them home to Australia. Not sure whether it is true but it certainly makes a great story, especially to a child.

I am fortunate to now own some of Jimmy’s paintings from when he was quite young (c1934-1938). These pieces and others were proudly hung in the Morley house at Kangaroo Point until the death of my great aunts Elsie and Vera in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, I do not know what happened to the other art works – some still life paintings, the Matterhorn and pen and ink drawings. Hopefully, they are being enjoyed by other families. Although Jimmy Lyle was a well regarded Brisbane artist, it is difficult to find any reference to him or his art. If you have one of Jimmy Lyle’s painting or drawings, please let me know. I would love to know about it.

It just goes to show that you never know what might come of your actions down the track. I don’t know what Granny thought would happen to the little boy with the budding talent. She just felt he should have some art lessons. Whatever she thought, her actions changed Jimmy’s life forever.

Untitled, James E Lyle circa 1935. Oil on canvas
Untitled, James E Lyle circa 1935. Oil on canvas
Lion and Lioness, James E Lyle circa 1938. Oil on canvas with palette knife, no brush work. Completed when artist was 14 years old.

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