In The Tirranna picnic race meeting Lambert presented a then ideal aspect of Australian life, depicting the elegant, wealthy pastoralist class in their rolling sheep country around Canberra, enjoying horse-riding and country racing. The scene is evocative of mood and incident: an army band plays music; women promenade in their best dresses, large hats and parasols; men in grey suits and hats adopt poses or chat with the women, while jockeys prepare their horses. Each element of the painting contributes to the overall sensation of movement and animation, from the gathering clouds to the informal arrangement of figures and horses.
Lambert visited Michelago, south of Canberra, in 1922, during which time he attended the Tirranna picnic race meeting back north, about six miles out of Goulburn. It was a significant annual social event at the time, located on the Tirranna property. It had been established in 1855 by men from local pastoral families. Amongst the prominent figures in the picture were Mr Walter N. Gunn, for very many years honorary secretary of the race meeting, and Mr Campbell Gibson, the owner of Tirranna in the 1920s (Grimwade file).
Russell Grimwade, to whom Lambert lent this – unfinished – painting, wrote to Lambert on 6 November 1929 expressing his enthusiasm about it: ‘Glorious Tirranna is hanging safely on our wall and although not … lit artificially seems to have an accession of colour & vivacity over our last view of it. It becomes our room, pleases us both immensely, gives us pride to possess it, fascinates our friends and glorifies its creator – what more could it do? Do come and finish it soon’ (ML MSS 97/3, pp.131–2).
Lambert never completed the picture, before his death in May 1930. Grimwade purchased the painting from his estate for 600 guineas.