This highly stylised portrait presents a man under dramatic lighting. By depicting him in profile, Lambert created a clear and authoritative image. He presented him with an intense self-awareness, with every muscle in his face and even the back of his neck taut and alert. His pose is theatrical, with his body facing forward and his head in profile, rather like a dancer in Nijinsky’s ballet The rite of spring . His hand is held somewhat awkwardly across his body, with two fingers held out as if to make a blessing. The sense of constraint in the face is mirrored by the tight white collar on the man’s striped shirt, which almost appears to choke him. The draped curtain behind this man folds into a V-shape which echoes the V of his jacket. While this man’s identity remains a mystery, his presence is intense. (He is possibly Dr Gore, who was drawn in 1916, back from a military ship, off Gallipoli.)
Lambert emphasised the austere line of the man’s features against the plain blue background. He painted the individual features of the face with such careful attention to detail that we can see the hairs of the man’s eyebrows and eyelashes, and visualise the oil combed through his hair. Yet they are subordinated in a composition that has a geometric, almost abstract severity, using light to illuminate as well as to construct the forms.
This severe profile portrait is in the manner of the bust-length profile portraits by Botticelli and other fifteenth-century Italian artists. As did Botticelli, Lambert used line to outline features of his subject.