Lambert’s self-portraits are in part a self-examination of his nature, a kind of visual diary. This unfinished self-portrait enables us to see Lambert at work. He drew the figure in charcoal on top of a ground, then painted in the background, blocked in shadows and highlights with grey washes; and after this started painting the detail of the face, the white shirt and the hat. The unfinished right hand appears to be holding a paint brush. He started at the top of the portrait and then worked down.
This method resembled that reported in the Daily Telegraph on 22 September 1923, describing Lambert’s demonstration to Sydney art students. Lambert worked on the demonstration portrait from 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. with only a break for lunch. He began with a charcoal sketch, drawing in the arms, then the shoulders, the wrists, the hands, the fingers, with the head and its features last of all. He then worked on the background and the main tones with a palette knife, scraping off any undue thickness of pigment. Once he had laid in the tone he seldom altered it, but modified it by brushing in accents and building up the form with a mosaic of small planes.
As the Sydney Morning Herald reviewer observed on 3 September 1930, this unfinished self-portrait ‘has all the Lambert qualities of lifelike character and sound draughtsmanship’, and was ‘complete and arresting in its presentment of vivid life’.