Olave Cunninghame Graham (1876–1966) was the niece of Lambert’s wild friend R.B. Cunninghame Graham, the Scottish socialist, writer, traveller and Argentine rancher, through whom she may have met Lambert. Her grandmother was half Spanish and half Scots. In March 1915 she married Rear-Admiral Sir Basil Brooke. Shortly before her marriage Miss Cunninghame Graham wrote to Lambert, saying that she and her husband wanted ‘to see my portrait hanging in our dining room instead of stored away in your studio’ (ML MSS 97/2, pp.87–90), but it would appear that this never eventuated. Lambert is known to have wanted to keep some of his portraits, and did so with this one. After his death it began to be called The red shawl .
The pose is a witty adaptation of that of the famous marble sculpture from classical antiquity, the Venus de’ Medici (Uffizi, Florence), revered as the most beautiful of Venuses, as well as the figure of Venus in Botticelli’s The birth of Venus c.1485–86 (Uffizi, Florence). But Lambert may also have remembered Étude de jeune fille 1890, a work by his Paris teacher, Gustave Courtois, which had been purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales from the Paris Salon in 1890. Both works show their subject in an exotic costume and in three-quarter pose with one hand on the hip, set against a flat background. Like Courtois, Lambert exquisitely modelled the woman’s face, and added liveliness through the decoration on the costume, described in 1913 as ‘Japonoise’.
P.G. Konody, reviewing the Royal Academy exhibition, described the portrait in the Observer of 4 May 1913 as being superbly painted, a daring picture, and ‘devoid of all wilfulness and eccentricity – the work of an artist who respects the materials of his craft’.