LAMBERT, George Washington Thomas (1873-1930), the third name was never used
- artistwas born at St Petersburg, Russia, on 13 September 1873, the fourth child and only son of George Washington Lambert, an American engineer who went to Russia to assist in the construction of railways. His mother was the only child of an English engineer, Thomas Firth, engaged in the same work. The elder Lambert died shortly before his son was born, and some two years later the family removed to Germany and stayed there for six years with Mrs Lambert's father. On their return to England George Lambert was sent to Kingston College in Somerset and made good progress. He began to draw in pencil, and won a prize at South Kensington in an under 12 competition.Lambert's grandfather Thomas Firth, having now retired, decided to go to Australia with his daughter and her family to join his brother who had been there for some years. When they arrived they went to the brother's station at Eurobla near Nevertire, New South Wales. Here the boy rode and swam and got close to nature, and little attempt was made to continue his schooling. At 13 years of age he went to Sydney and became a junior clerk in the office of Macarthur and Company, wholesale drapers. He was found unsuitable for this work, and a fresh position was obtained as probationer-clerk in the government shipping office, where his surroundings were pleasanter and the hours shorter. In his spare time he did much reading and became fond of music. But he felt the bush calling to him and after five years of office life obtained a situation on a station. He worked hard and at week-ends did much sketching. While on a visit to Sydney he met B. E. Minns (q.v.) and showed him some of his bush sketches. He was advised to see Julian Ashton (q.v.) who was instructor of the Royal Art Society's classes between 1892 and 1896. Lambert received some encouragement and joined the evening classes. He obtained a position at the cash desk in a grocer's shop, began to send black and white sketches to the Sydney Bulletin, and exhibited his first picture at the Royal Art Society's exhibition held in 1894, a small painting of a horse and cart. By 1896 his drawings were being accepted by the Bulletin, and he was able to give up the shop and give full time to his painting. In that year his picture, "A Bush Idyll", was exhibited, and was bought by the Sydney gallery for 20 guineas. He later on spent some time in the country and made studies for "Across the Blacksoil Plains", which was exhibited at the Society of Artists exhibition in 1899 and first brought him prominently before the public. The picture was so large that it could not be conveniently fitted into his studio, and was painted in an outhouse in his mother's garden. Considering the difficulties under which it was painted it was an amazing production, immature no doubt, but strong and full of movement. It was purchased by the national gallery of New South Wales for 100 guineas, and it was also awarded the Wynne prize of £27.In 1899 the New South Wales government gave the Society of Artists an annual subsidy of £400. A travelling scholarship of £150 a year was established, and the first award was made to Lambert. Three pictures had to be submitted, Lambert's being a subject-picture "Youth and the River", a portrait study of his mother, and a small landscape. He married Amy Absell on 4 September 1900 and two days later sailed for London. By a fortunate chance another distinguished student, Hugh Ramsay (q.v.), joined the vessel at Melbourne. Arrived in London Lambert took a studio at Bayswater while Ramsay visited Scotland, and in a few weeks both artists went to Paris and entered at Colarossi's school. Lambert obtained a studio on the top floor of a factory in the Latin quarter in the same building with Ramsay and James MacDonald who shared a studio. MacDonald was afterwards successively director of the Sydney and Melbourne galleries. Others in the same building were Ambrose Patterson and Frieseke, the well-known American artist. Lambert had a small salary from the Bulletin but found the toll of drawings required hampered his work. He was represented at the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts in 1901 by his "La Guitariste", but his recognition was slower than Ramsay's who had already begun to make a reputation. In June Lambert's son Maurice was born which added to his responsibilities, and he was not finding any buyers in Paris. In November 1901 he returned to London.The contract to supply the Bulletin with drawings had been given up but much work was done for English magazines. In 1903 a portrait of Miss Thea Proctor was painted and hung at the Royal Academy exhibition. Miss Proctor and his own family afterwards furnished the models for a series of pictures exhibited at the academy, which included "Lotty and the Lady" (1906), now at Melbourne, "The Bathers" (1908), and "Holiday in Essex" (1910). Lambert was interested in the great men of the past and his work at this period was influenced to some extent by Velasquez and Manet. He was working very hard varying his painting with teaching at Brangwyn's London school of art. He exhibited with the International Society and the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts, and in 1911 was awarded a silver medal at the Exposicion Internacional de Arte at Barcelona, for his painting "The Sonnet". He was making a reputation as a portrait painter when the war broke out. He reported himself at Australia House, but was informed that if he wished to join the A.I.F. he should do so through a recruiting office in Australia. Later on, after a period of training, he was appointed a divisional works officer in Wales, and was sent to superintend timber-getting there. He did his work with great efficiency. Towards the end of 1917 he was approached on behalf of the Canadian War Memorials Fund and was offered an artist's commission. He was told that John, Cameron, and Orpen would be his brother artists. It is a tribute to Lambert's reputation that he should have been joined with three such distinguished painters. He had, however, been previously in touch with the Australian authorities, and in December 1917 became one of their war artists. He arrived in Egypt in January 1918 and on 12 February in a letter to his wife he mentioned that he had dispatched 23 drawings and 11 paintings to Australia House. He was to do an enormous amount of work in the next five years, of which some 250 examples are at the war museum at Canberra.Lambert returned to England in August 1919. He shortly afterwards obtained additional war commissions, and Algernon Talmage R.A. offered him the use of his country house in Cornwall. He completed there "The Beersheeba Charge" and "The Battle of Romani" but he felt he could do the work better in Australia. He sailed about the beginning of 1921 and soon after his arrival in Melbourne had a one man show at the Fine Art Society gallery which was very successful. On 29 June he was officially welcomed by the Society of Artists at Sydney, whose scholarship he had won 20 years before. But he revolted from the well-meant kindness of his friends, it was pleasant to talk but he had work to do. He took up sculpture and began working on a sketch design for the Port Said memorial, and also various portrait commissions in oil. He was disappointed at not winning the competition for the Port Said memorial, but he had contributed to this failure by making a design which admittedly could not be completed for the amount allowed. His disappointment was mitigated to some extent by his obtaining a sculpture commission for the Geelong grammar school war memorial. In 1922 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy. In 1924 he had a temporary break down in health caused by overwork, he had found it difficult to obtain suitable assistance. For his next important commissions the "Unknown Soldier" and the Henry Lawson memorial he was able to get the help of Arthur Murch, who with George Perugia, a skilled caster, lightened his burdens very much. He was not helped by the well-meant advice of members of the Lawson committee, who however later on expressed their pleasure in the dignity and power of his conception. Under medical advice he was restricting the number of hours worked each day. The Lawson group was finally completed, and on 25 March 1930 it was shown to a gathering of his friends in his studio. Then followed reaction. He went away to the country for rest and change but little improvement followed. On 14 April in writing to his wife he mentioned that he had been "warned off riding and any exercise whatever . . . It was Lawson 'done it'". He died suddenly on 28 May 1930. He was survived by his wife and two sons. The elder, Maurice, born in Paris in 1901, well known as a sculptor, is represented at the Victoria and Albert museum and in the Tate gallery. The younger Constant, a composer and conductor, was in 1938 musical director of the Vic-Wells ballet in London.Lambert was tall, athletic, a good boxer in his youth, fair, with a reddish beard. He had a slightly theatrical manner and would probably have made a good actor had he chosen that art. When he took part in a pageant which included some professionals, one of them said, "what a Mercutio he would have made!" He was fond of music and had a good light baritone voice. He was sometimes accused of posing but this was only self-protection. In reality he was a highly nervous man who lived only for his art. His paintings sometimes suggest an easy mastery of his materials, but though he could on occasions work quickly nobody could have been more painstaking. Sometimes he would spend the whole of a sitting on painting the hands. The war broke out just as he was coming into prominence in England, otherwise he would have gained greatly in public appreciation, he had already gained the approval of his fellow artists. He could appreciate and rejoice in the work of other artists, and his placing the name of his assistant Arthur Murch with his own on the statue of the unknown soldier, was a gesture that might well be imitated by other sculptors. He ranks among the greatest artists of the Australian school both in painting and sculpture. He is well represented in the Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide galleries, in addition to the war museum at Canberra.Amy Lambert, Thirty Years of an Artist's Life; A. Jose and others, The Art of George W. Lambert; James MacDonald, The Art and Life of George W. Lambert; personal knowledge.
Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. Angus and Robertson. 1949.
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