Artophilia  •  3174   •  6 May 2014

George W Lambert

Artist, was born on 13 September 1873 at St Petersburg, fourth child and posthumous son of George Washington Lambert, an American railway engineer, and his English wife Annie Matilda, née Firth. Soon after his birth the family moved to Württemberg, Germany, with his maternal grandfather, and then to England where George was educated at Kingston College, Yeovil, Somerset. The family decided to migrate and George, reaching Sydney with his mother and three sisters in the Bengal on 20 January 1887, soon went to Eurobla, near Warren, a sheep-station owned by his great-uncle Robert Firth.

After eight months Lambert returned to Sydney to work as a clerk with W. and A. McArthur & Co., softgoods merchants, and in 1889-91 in the Shipping Master’s Office. He attended night classes conducted by Julian Ashton for the Art Society of New South Wales but returned to the country and worked as a station-hand for about two years. These two relatively brief experiences of bush life gave him an enduring love for horses and rural themes. Back in Sydney he met the illustrator B. E. Minns who advised him to consider becoming an artist and he returned to Ashton’s classes, while working by day as a grocer’s assistant. Ashton’s teaching emphasized draughtsmanship, studying casts from the antique, then drawing from life. At this time American illustrators such as W. T. Smedley and Charles Dana Gibson were also popular. These several influences are seen in Lambert’s early work, including pen-and-ink cartoons for the Bulletin, to which he began to contribute in 1895, and illustrations for three books published by Angus & Robertson. His earliest extant portrait, of A. W. Jose, belongs to this period.

From 1894 Lambert had exhibited with the Art Society and the Society of Artists, Sydney, but his first interesting, if sentimental, painting ‘A Bush Idyll’ dates from 1896. His important picture, ‘Across the Black Soil Plains’, which modestly expressed a nationalist sentiment through the honest labour of horses, won the 1899 Wynne prize and was bought by the National Art Gallery of New South Wales for 100 guineas. Lambert had a growing appreciation of the ‘excellence of craftsmanship’ of old masters, albeit observed secondhand in ‘Judgment of Paris’ by his English contemporary Maurice Grieffenhagen at the Art Gallery. In 1900 he won the first travelling art scholarship awarded by the Society of Artists from funds made available by the government.