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 1921. 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. He then studied at the Press Art School in London from 1952 to 1953 and The Julien Perren Art Academy in Paris in 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 in 1948, the Auckland Art Gallery in 1958, and the International Art Gallery in Brisbane in 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. During 1957 and 1958, Jimmy designed three Australian stamps: 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 but 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 (Aunty Elsie’s and Auntie Vera’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 in 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 paintings or drawings, please let me know. I would love to hear 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 1936. Oil on canvas with palette knife, no brush work. Completed when artist was 14 years old.

25 thoughts on “James E Lyle … a lost art

  1. Hi Mark, thanks for contacting me about James E. Any chance of photos of the print and and the painting? I would be interested in seeing them. Any stories you have, especially of the early days, would also be appreciated. If you would rather email me, my address is margo.higgins@hotmail.com
    Looking forward to hearing from you in the near future.
    Kind regards


  2. Hi Margo.. I have some of James e painting . 1 print and 1 oil on canvas. The print was of cpt cook givin to me and signed “to my cobber Mark from James e 1971 . I’ve got story’s about him in the early days . I was about 9yr old. The oil is running horses through a creek … Mark Davis

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Lorraine, thanks for contacting me regarding Jimmy Lyle. Interested to hear how the painting came about. Do you have the painting or a photo of it? Are you related to Jimmy? Any information you care to share would be appreciated as I attempt to piece together this amazing man’s life. If you would prefer to contact me privately, my email address is margo.higgins@hotmail.com
    Thanks again for your comments! I hope to hear from you again.


  4. Jimmy Lyle painted a picture of my Uncle Danny on a visit he made with his parents from the United States. I have some photo’s left to me by my Grandmother of Jimmy.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Robbie,
    Thank you for reading my blog! I am so glad you enjoyed it. I am working on a post to mark the 60th anniversary of the release of the ‘Smithy’ postage stamp in August 2018. The 1958 stamp commemorates the 30th anniversary of the first trans-Tasman flight. If you have any information, photos or anecdotes about Jimmy and your father that you would like included in my post, please feel free to forward to me at my email address, margo.higgins@hotmail.com
    Thanks so much for making contact!
    Kind regards


  6. Jimmy was my uncle. My Dad, Tom Lyle was his twin. I remember visiting the Morley sisters in Connor Street with him in the sixties. It was lovely to read your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. He did climb the Matterhorn in 1953. He was the first Australian to climb it and do a painting of it. I am also looking for paintings of his.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for reading my post! I am so glad you enjoyed it. Although Granny Morley had a big impact on Jimmy’s life initially, he in turn impacted on Granny’s life and subsequent generations. It was/is a unique bond. My children and grandchildren have all grown up with the stories so it lives on. I am in the process of preparing an update based on further information I have gathered so I hope you will drop by for the next installment. If you haven’t already, you might want to check out my other post on Jimmy entitled James E Lyle…the stamp of approval 60 years on. Once again, thanks for your interest!


  9. Thank you for this heartwarming and positive story about your grandmother Morley and her influence on the boy Jimmy? Through her loving heart and astute observation this boy’s fate took the turn it was meant to. What a legacy to leave, to selflessly have given this chance to a fulfilling and creative life..

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have a painting that was left under a bed in the motel we bought in 2005, with a letter saying where he was going he could not take the painting??? It has puzzled me for years and I would love to know more.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for reading and commenting on my post. My sincere condolences on the recent loss of your mother. It must be a difficult time for you. How wonderful though, that you have paintings by Jimmy Lyle, especially the wedding portrait. The photo I remember had Jimmy in his army uniform and wearing a peak cap. However, I would be grateful if you could send me a copy of your photo to my email address: margo.higgins@hotmail.com . If you are interested in finding out a bit more about Jim, please have a look at my recently published post that marks the 60th anniversary of the release of the Royal Flying Doctor Service 7 penny stamp which was designed by Jimmy. It gives a little more insight into the man and his art. I am in the midst of preparing another post on Jimmy which will incorporate information and photos provided by his family and a work colleague of Jim’s as well as the fruits of my research at the State Library. Once again, thank you for taking the time to read my post.


  12. James E. Lyle was best man at Mum and Dad’s wedding in 1946. He and Dad were in the 61st Battalion, but they knew each other previously. Dad passed away a few years ago and Mum very recently. I have been going through the family photographs and there are photos of Jimmy. One in particular sounds like the photo you think is missing (slouch hat and moustache). We also have the painting of the cocker spaniel (one with the side view). I’m pretty sure Jimmy gave Mum and Dad the painting when they visited him at Coorparoo. They had lost touch for many years. Jimmy also painted a wedding portrait of Mum and Dad, which we still have.

    Liked by 1 person

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