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 | Equestrian portrait of a boy

Russia 1873 – Australia 1930
Australia 1887-1900; England 1900-01; France 1901-02; England 1902-21; Australia from 1921
Equestrian portrait of a boy
[Equestrian group]
oil on canvas
127.7 (h) x 101.7 (w) cm
signed 'G.LAMBERT' lower right
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of the artist under the conditions of the NSW Travelling Art Scholarship in 1906 Sydney photograph: Jenni Carter for AGNSW
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A portrait of Lambert’s eldest son, Maurice, wearing a crimson coat and seated on a Shetland pony, together with a young nursemaid. Amy Lambert suggested that the nursemaid was initially employed to look after Maurice, but was subsequently co-opted as a model. The nursemaid did not mind posing for the composition, but objected to having to read Brer Rabbit out aloud to Maurice, and to Lambert correcting her as she did so. (Lambert 1938, pp.37–8).

Maurice is posed in a manner reminiscent of Velázquez’s portrait of the six-year-old prince in Infante Baltasar Carlos on horseback 1634–35 (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid). The curl of the hair, the serious expression on the face and the long boots, as well as the use of tone and chiaroscuro, derive from Velázquez. Lambert also followed Velázquez by setting the child’s lighted face against stormy clouds. The pony, however, does not rear as does the horse in Velázquez’s painting, the boy’s hat has slipped off his head and a nursemaid has been added to the composition at the head of the pony. Lambert’s approach to landscape, furthermore, was distinct: unlike Velázquez, he used it to provide a mood rather than to depict a specific location. In this way he evoked the atmosphere of Velázquez’s art without copying it.

Lambert painted this group with a sensitivity to his subject. He created a strong composition by organising the figures on a diagonal axis, with the girl’s apron, her arm, and the boy’s hands and legs arranged in parallel diagonals. He gave the figures an added force by showing them silhouetted against the cloudy sky.

This work was the first of Lambert’s European paintings to receive notable attention in the press. When it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1905 the critic for The Times commented on 29 April 1905 that ‘though obviously influenced by Velásquez, [the picture] shows a certain originality of design and colour which seems to promise well’. Grace Joel noted in Art and Arch itecture May–June 1906 that ‘there was poetry in the turn of the girl's head, inclined towards the little boy, and the whole picture had a dignity about it’.

This was the third and best of three works that Lambert painted for the Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales to fulfil the conditions of the Society of Artists Travelling Scholarship which Lambert had been awarded in 1900 to study overseas.

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