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  Russia 1873 � Australia 1930  'Chesham Street' [Chesney Street; The Doctor; Harley Street] 1910  oil on canvas National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased in 1993

George.W.Lambert Retrospective : heroes & icons
29 June � 16 September 2007

George Lambert (1873–1930) was one of Australia’s most brilliant, witty and influential artists. The exhibtion George Lambert retrospective: heroes and icons is the most comprehensive showing of Lambert’s work for over fifty years. It will present the diverse range of Lambert’s work from his Australian bush subjects to his Edwardian portraits and figure groups, from his sparkling oil sketches to his major battle paintings and large sculpture. It will show the full breadth of Lambert’s approaches to image making and the variety of his handling of pencil, pen and paint. It will demonstrate his sure draughtsmanship and the seductive glamour and sensual appeal of his paint surfaces.

I know for myself that which is easy is not worth doing, and that nothing matters to an artist but the fulfilment of his gift.

George W. Lambert.

But who was George Lambert and what was he like? That is a difficult question to answer. His stunning image of himself baring his chest, Chesham Street 1910, like the man himself, is an enigma. It appears to have a meaning but is not strictly narrative. It invites us to provide our own interpretation. He sits boldly in front of the viewer, holding up his shirt and revealing his entire torso. The painting is a metaphor: this man seems to have nothing to hide, to be literally and metaphorically baring his chest, exposing his heart and soul to the world. But was he? Many writers have referred to Lambert’s extrovert personality, characterising him as an entertaining raconteur and mimic, with a keen sense of humour.

Approach nature with a simple palette but an extravagant love of form.

George W. Lambert, 1918

Some found Lambert’s flamboyance appealing, while others objected to it or sought to explain it away as if it were something disagreeable – frivolous and effete, a divergence from the typical easygoing, hardy, resolute Australian. Some suggested that Lambert’s posing was a shield against his sensitive nature, and others maintained he had two personalities, one for his friends (gentle, kindly and sympathetic) and another for his acquaintances and the public (brilliant, witty and flamboyant). His wife, Amy, agreed that Lambert’s theatricality and love of laughter was a mask behind which he hid his sadness.

Lambert was a versatile artist, with great audacity and considerable finesse, a more broad-ranging artist than any other in Australia at this time. George Lambert retrospective is the result of generous inter-gallery cooperation. It will selectively draw together around 110 works by Lambert that are scattered throughout major art museums and collections in Australia, as well as private collections in Britain. It will present us with the opportunity to look at the full scope of his work, including three of Lambert’s large-scale battle paintings, kindly lent by the Australian War Memorial, and viewed for the first time in many years alongside other icons such as The squatter’s daughter and A sergeant of Light Horse in Palestine.

Anne Gray
Head of Australia art, National Gallery of Australia

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