DETAIL : George LAMBERT  Russia 1873 � Australia 1930  'Chesham Street' [Chesney Street; The Doctor; Harley Street] 1910  oil on canvas National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased in 1993 DETAIL : George LAMBERT  Russia 1873 � Australia 1930  'The convex mirror' c.1916  oil with pencil on wood panel private collection
George LAMBERT | The smile of Pan

Russia 1873 – Australia 1930
Australia 1887-1900; England 1900-01; France 1901-02; England 1902-21; Australia from 1921
The smile of Pan
[The smile of Pan]
oil on wood panel
59.1 (h) x 49.4 (w) cm
signed and dated 'GWL 1915' lower right
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, purchased through the South Australian Government Grant in 1930
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In The smile of Pan Lambert placed a cynically smiling plaster head of Pan on a table beside a smiling woman and contrasted the sculpted head with the human head but echoed the expression of the sculpture in the woman’s face. We do not know any more about this woman than can be deduced from the image. By counterpoising the sculpted bust with this lady, Lambert may have intended to suggest that she was a follower of Pan. But the woman, like the sculpted Pan, seems to be turned to stone, fixed without motion.

This clinically cool painting is typical of Lambert’s precise and ordered approach at the time. The objects have been carefully selected and meticulously painted. His limited use of colour contributes to the disquieting mood of the image, which is increased by the odd juxtaposition of human, natural and man-made forms.

Pan’s hybrid nature as beast and god made him an ideal character through which to comment on the opposition between natural forces and the ideal or the civilised. As in Pan is dead (cat.48), in this painting Lambert included white gloves, a status symbol of good manners in the Edwardian era, and white flowers, the symbol of truth and purity. This reinforces the triple-sided aspect of this image – the contrast between the bestial side of Pan and the rigidity of Edwardian society, and the contrast of both of these against the innocence of the flowers. But the imagery becomes more complex if we see the flowers as narcissi, the symbol of innocence but also of conceit, self-love and excessive pride – and of self-knowledge.

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