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Self portrait with gladioli
, 1922

by George Lambert

oil on canvas (frame: 159.0 cm x 132.5 cm depth 14.0 cm, sight: 128.2 cm x 102.8 cm)

George Lambert (1873–1930), artist, was a jackeroo before moving to Sydney to work as an illustrator and attend art school. After winning the first NSW Society of Artists’ Travelling Scholarship in 1900 he studied and worked in Paris and London for many years, becoming an Associate of the Royal Academy. The only official war artist of World War I to be appointed to the rank of Honorary Captain, he produced immense, violent paintings of the landing at Gallipoli and the charge of the Light Horse at Beersheba. Returning to Sydney in 1921, he became a major active influence on contemporary art. Some of his works, including Across the Black Soil Plains (1899), A Sergeant of the Light Horse (1920) and The Squatter’s Daughter (1923–4) number amongst the key twentieth-century representations of aspects of Australian experience. Although he looks relaxed and elegant in his velvet rest robe, at the time he painted the Self portrait with gladioli to send to the Royal Academy Lambert was suffering periodic attacks of exhaustion brought on by his gruelling schedule of painting and lecturing. He remarked to his wife that this work, one of several self portraits in markedly different guises, ‘cost him dearly in money and swat’. After Lambert’s death, his London-based son, Maurice, angrily described the painting as a ‘brilliant piece of technique’ with which his father ‘disguised from the mediocre but revealed to the sensitive just what a few years in Australia had done to him’. Debilitated by recurring symptoms of malaria, Lambert spent what remained of his energy working relentlessly on portraits and sculptures, including the Henry Lawson Memorial that stands in Sydney’s Domain. He died of heart failure while attending to his horse at Cobbitty in May 1930.

Lambert’s Self portrait with gladioli was the second major gift to the National Portrait Gallery by John Schaeffer AO, following his munificent contribution to the purchase of the portrait of James Cook RN in 2000.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of John Schaeffer AO 2003
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2003.93

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