George Lambert (1875 – 1930)

Born in St Petersburg, Russia, 1873, George Washington Lambert arrived in Australia with his mother in 1887 where they took up residence at Eurobla, a sheep station near Warren owned by his great-uncle Robert Firth.

Lambert’s art studies began in 1896 at Sydney’s Julian Ashton Art School where he was taught under the instruction of Julian Ashton and stayed until 1900. It was during this time that he won his the Wynne Prize for his landscape, Across the Blacksoil Plains in 1899. Having won a travelling scholarship of 150 pounds from the New South Wales Government, Lambert resumed his education abroad with fellow student Hugh Ramsey, taking up studies at Colarossi’s and the Atelier Delecluse, Paris from 1900-01.

After a year living in Paris, Lambert moved to London where he exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy and the New Salon from 1904 until 1911 and received significant acclaim for his work. At this time, Lambert’s painting style demonstrated the strong influences of Velazquez, Manet and the Florentine mannerist painter, Bronzino. Proving his success on a larger scale, he was awarded a silver medal at an international exhibition for his painting The Sonnet in Barcelona, 1911 and increasingly became recognised and celebrated as a portrait artist.

In 1917, Lambert was appointed an official war artist by both the Canadian and Australian governments. While the Canadian war art scheme wanted Lambert to work predominantly on a large battle painting, the Australian High Commission requested a move to Palestine. Ultimately it was the Australian offer which Lambert took up and in December that year, he left London to travel to the Middle East attached as a lieutenant to the Australian Light Horse. As his train crossed through France and Italy, Lambert produced a number of sketches of the changing landscape. These working sketches became the first of seventy-six drawings created during 1918, many of which being portraits of the soldiers serving in Egypt and Palestine during that time.

In 1919 Lambert was reappointed to Turkey with C.E.W Bean and the Historical Mission to paint oil sketches and record the places where the battles occurred. It was here that he began on his large commissioned painting of the landings on the Gallipoli peninsula. Entitled Anzac, the landing 1915 , today it is the largest painting in the Australian War Memorial’s collection. During his time as an official war artist, Lambert produced over 500 paintings and drawings for the Memorial.

Lambert returned to Australia in 1921 where he was almost immediately enthroned in the Australian art world for the way his work reflected the London world of Lawrence of Arabia and Augustus John and the way his talents demonstrated a mixture of styles from both the Heidelberg School and the Australian Black-and-white school. Following this warm reception, Lambert found success in Melbourne after a retrospective exhibition was held in his name at the Fine Art Society gallery. He then went on to be elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1922.

Lambert exhibited annually with the Society of Artists and from 1926 he also exhibited with the Contemporary Group which he formed with Thea Proctor.

In 1927, Lambert won the prestigious Archibald Prize for portraiture with his work, Mrs Murdoch. As a skilful draughtsman, he is said to have influenced such prolific artists as William Dobell and Douglas Dundas. Lambert went on to receive several more large commissions including a war memorial for the Geelong Church of England Grammar School, an unknown soldier for St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, and a statue of Henry Lawson for Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, Sydney (1930). He produced these works until his sudden death on May 29th, 1930 which occurred following the diagnosis of mitral valve disease.

A Lambert Memorial fund was soon established and two memorial exhibitions were held before the end of the year of Lambert’s death.

Today a large collection of George W. Lambert’s work is represented by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, all Australian state and many provincial galleries and public collections abroad.

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