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 maid

Russia 1873 – Australia 1930
Australia 1887-1900; England 1900-01; France 1901-02; England 1902-21; Australia from 1921
The maid 1915
oil on canvas
91.5 (h) x 71.0 (w) cm
signed and dated 'G.W.LAMBERT 1915' lower right
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, purchased in 1931
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In this work Lambert showed a maid as a suitable subject for a portrait, creating a truthful likeness, with no hint of flattery, and depicting her with sympathy and respect. He showed her as vulnerable, on her best behaviour and conscious of her position, with her back upright and her hands resting neatly in her lap. She regards the viewer with a degree of scepticism out of the corner of her eyes, as if to ask whether she should be having her portrait painted or, rather, getting on with her work. Unlike some portraits of servants, Lambert does not place her within a domestic setting or show her with the tools of her trade.

It is not known who exactly this maid was, and whether she was someone who worked in Lambert’s household, or whether she was perhaps a maid at the Chelsea Arts Club.

In the twentieth century, artists sometimes used their servants as models, as when Lambert depicted the young girl employed as Maurice’s nursemaid in Equestrian portrait of a boy (cat.26). On other occasions they used models to act as servants, as Lambert did in Lotty and a lady (cat.27). But the general demeanour and rather sad expression of this maid would suggest that she worked as  a maid, and was not a model dressed up  as a maidservant.

As Giles Waterfield has observed, ‘the very idea of a servant’s portrait is an anomaly’ because portraits have generally been of wealthy, privileged or distinguished individuals and ‘executed for people or institutions of wealth and influence’ (Waterfield, p.7). As barriers built up between servants and their employers during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, portraits of servants became a less usual phenomenon (Waterfield, p.57). In this context, Lambert’s portrait of a maid can be viewed as indicative of the social reforms that challenged society during the First World War.

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