The setting for this painting is the 14th Australian General Hospital at Abbassia on the outskirts of Cairo. Lambert painted this sunny courtyard scene in the hospital looking down from the balcony of the officers’ ward. He sketched convalescent patients wearing blue trousers and white shirts on the stairs and under the trees, with a nurse climbing the stairs and acacia trees providing shade in the courtyard. He contrasted the bold ochre of the rectangular forms of the building with the flickering leaves on the trees and the dappled shadows on the ground.
After visiting Gallipoli Lambert was hospitalised here for six weeks from mid-April to mid-June 1919. He was suffering from severe dysentery, afflicted by a recurrence of malaria and troubled by a weak heart. On 3 June 1919 he wrote to Amy, ‘I would like to rest my head against your very soft cheek by way of benediction’. A little later – once back in Egypt from fieldwork in Palestine and Syria – on 12 July 1919, preparing his wife for his return to Britain, he wrote ‘I fear I shall want a lot of coddling’; both his illness and his experience of war had made him aware of his mortality, and he also instructed Amy what she should do if he were to die (ML MSS 97/4, item 1).
This and the following two works were made during his time of convalescence at Abbassia.