Published  02/11/2007

Australian master

Artist George Lambert, who died relatively young aged 56, was a cosmopolitan who had a major effect on Australian art at the turn of the 19th century. He arrived in 1887 and was soon found to possess something of a Renaissance sensibility, as proficient a sculptor as he was at painting and graphic arts. He won the first New South Wales travelling scholarship and went to London and Paris. He exhibited both at the Royal Academy and at the New Salon. His fame grew as a war artist in the First World War, with Australian forces in Palestine. On his return to Australia in 1921, he was recognised as a leading figure in the art world. His painting 'The Squatter's Daughter', depicting a daughter of the Ryrie family of Michelago, showed particular skill in portraying an elegant female on horseback in the bush landscape. This work is in the exhibition current at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. It both includes what are virtual salon paintings, such as 'The White Glove', and examples of his war paintings. These last enabled him to attain a position more than that of a 'city bushman' and more than a social artist. The exhibition is memorable for his detachment from his female subject material however, probably a sign of his absolute professionalism, especially post-war. Born in St Petersburg in 1873, he arrived in Australia aged 13 in 1887. The expressions in his work reveal a private, even enigmatic disposition. Barry Humphries has referred to Lambert as the Australian Sargent, but Lambert was a more withdrawn and complex individual, even cynical about the society to which he owed so much. He is said to have been a brilliant rider, but he died setting up a feed box for his steed. He painted horses, among other things, brilliantly.

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