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 | Portrait group (The mother)

Russia 1873 – Australia 1930
Australia 1887-1900; England 1900-01; France 1901-02; England 1902-21; Australia from 1921
Portrait group (The mother) 1907
oil on canvas
204.5 (h) x 162.5 (w) cm
frame 234.5 (h) x 192.0 (w) x 8.0 (d) cm
signed and dated 'G.W.LAMBERT 1907' lower left
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, purchased with the assistance of S.H. Ervin in 1965
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During the early 1900s, images of women and children were a favourite subject for traditional and more modern artists alike. In Portrait group (The mother), Lambert contrasted two women: one wearing the kind of billowing dress worn in feminist and artistic circles, and the other standing next to her with her hand placed cavalierly on her shoulder, wearing a fashionable black satin waisted coat and a high-necked dress. In this way he contrasted the supple, rounded form of one woman against the more statuesque figure of the other, and in so doing suggested the difference between a woman’s role as a mother and that as an independent woman. As with his other family groups he used his wife and children as models, together with their artist friend Thea Proctor.

This is one of a number of images of women and children that Lambert painted, to which he gave objective titles such as Equestrian portrait of a boy (cat.26) and Holiday in Essex (cat.44) rather than the subjective ‘The artist’s family’ or ‘Amy, Maurice and Constant’. He intended his wife and children to signify the ‘ideal’ mother and children and not to represent themselves. He sometimes depicted his second son Constant dressed in a frock that was then used for baby boys, as in this work, and generally with his genitalia hidden, so that he could be viewed as any child and not specifically as this particular boy-child.

Lambert’s depiction of the boy in the long coat with his feet firmly planted on the ground looking out of the picture with an expression of roguish defiance resembles Velázquez’s portrait Philip IV of Spain in brown and silver 1632 (National Gallery, London). The stance of this figure also recalls Hans Holbein’s portrait of Henry VIII or Reynolds’s mock-heroic Master Crewe as Henry VIII 1776 (private collection). Lambert appropriated the pose, which through its common usage had become part of the general vocabulary of art. Lambert admitted that ‘the pose and atmosphere are traditional enough; and has actually no more relationship with Spanish art than with anything modern’ (ML MSS A1811 p.70). What is more, the costume came about by accident. Maurice was originally going to be painted in a white shirt, but one day he was fooling around with his father’s coat and Lambert, delighted with this image, incorporated it into the painting.

In this family group Lambert worked in the tradition of prominent society portrait painter Charles Furse. Like Furse, Lambert did not seek to paint a naturalistic outdoor image, particularly in his depiction of the landscape and the placement of the figures in it. Rather, he wanted to create a decorative effect, using the billowing forms of the clouds to enhance the rounded shapes of the figures, and deliberately placing dark shapes against light. In discussing this picture Lambert observed that ‘the dextrous brushwork, the following of the contours, the suave movement of drapery and clouds – are distinctly influenced by Furze’. (Lambert 1924, p.13)

The painting received favourable comment from contemporary London critics. The Times suggested on 4 May 1907 that the painting was ‘full of promise for the future’, while P.G. Konody, who became a staunch supporter of Lambert’s work, noted in the supplement to the Observer on 5 May 1907 that it was ‘painted with such freshness and such musical sense of colour that it is as bracing as a sea-breeze after the studio-made articles that abound all round’. He went on to suggest that Lambert’s ‘chief aim seems to have been the realisation of a decorative effect by rhythmic arrangement of line and balance of masses’.

This work is reported to have been Amy Lambert’s favourite portrait group.

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