This sensual image is more than a painting of a nude boy playing a pipe. The title Boy with pipes is one which was given to the work after Lambert’s death, and ‘The young shepherd’ is more likely to be the title he gave it. This title suggests Lambert’s idealised interest in simple country life and the virtues of nature. It is easy to imagine that this youth is a pagan, living in an Arcadia, calling to other spirits with his pipe.
Lambert’s youthful shepherd resembles George Frampton’s image of a young Peter Pan playing pipes. A short time before Lambert painted Boy with pipes , Frampton’s bronze sculpture Peter Pan was unveiled in Kensington Gardens in 1912, following the success of J.M. Barrie’s famous play (1904) about a boy who wouldn’t grow up or, rather, wouldn’t give up his pagan self to become a part of the civilised adult world. He was a child who could converse with animals, listen to fairies and experience the secret world behind appearances.
Lambert used the subject as an opportunity to render the beauty of the pre-adolescent male body and the seeming timelessness of youth. It is a sensual rather than explicitly sexual image.
Lambert painted it in the high-key palette that he began to use when he moved to
25 Glebe Place, London. It was a revival of his interest in Botticelli’s paintings from fifteenth-century Florence, and of his desire to create a picture which would look good in any light.However, in giving this work a blue background Lambert was fulfilling the ideals of the English poet and literary critic, John Addington Symonds, who in a book of essays, In the key of blue (1893), wrote: ‘whether the flesh tints of the man be pale or sun-burned, his complexion dark or fair, blue is equally in sympathy with the model’.
The model for Boy with pipes was Lambert’s son, Maurice, then aged twelve, but he depicted him as a type rather than as an individual.