masthead logo
email webmanager facebook | twitter | google+ | flickr | contacts | 



  1. 99346.jpg 1/2
  2. 99346_a.jpg 2/2

ON DISPLAY
LVL 2

Australian Art
Expatriates, Federation Landscapes & Symbolism gallery

See nearby items (accurate to +/- 12 hrs)

George LAMBERT

St Petersburg, Russia 1873 – Cobbity, New South Wales, Australia 1930

  • Movements: Australia 1887-1900
  • France and England 1900-21
  • Australia from 1921

Chesham Street
[Chesney Street; The Doctor; Harley Street] 1910 2 Rossetti Studios, Flood Street, Chelsea, Greater London, England
paintings, oil on canvas
Primary Insc: signed in black oil 'G.WL.' lower centre
62.0 h x 51.5 w cm
framed (overall) 880 h x 780 w x 155 d mm
Cat Raisonné: Gray(1996),P125
Purchased in 1993
Accession No: NGA 93.1191

MORE DETAIL

  • Chesham Street is one of a group of ‘puzzle pictures’ that Lambert painted between 1910 and 1914. These paintings appear to have a meaning and yet are not strictly narrative; they invite the viewer to provide their own interpretation.

    This is a bravura work that demonstrates Lambert’s considerable technical prowess but, more than this, it is a challenging and demanding image which asks ‘who is this man and what is going on?’. The man sits boldly in front of the viewer, holding up his shirt and revealing his entire torso. His head is held high, his lips are closed and he looks down at the viewer. His pale flesh, with the play of light on it, gleams against the dark surroundings. Lambert’s friend Hardy Wilson names ‘Williams, Lambert’s model’ as the source for the patient being sounded by a medical man (Wilson 1930, p.93) and Thea Proctor stated that it was the same model, once a sailor, who posed for the king in The shop (Thomas 1962). However, the features of the half-clad man resemble those of Lambert, and it is probable that Lambert intended to suggest a self-image (using the model’s body for the torso).

    The picture has been read narratively as a scene in a consulting room with a doctor examining the heart or lungs of his patient. Although Lambert does depict such a scene, this is not the subject of the painting, but the excuse for the composition. Dramatically, the painting is not about a physical examination at a specialist’s room in Chesham Street, London, but rather the psychological intrusiveness of that process. In 1901, Freud published his Psychopathology of everyday life and, during the decade, his ideas about exploring the psyche gained wider understanding. This man seems to have nothing to hide, to be literally and metaphorically baring his chest, exposing his heart and soul to the world.

    Contemporary critics in Britain, such as P.G. Konody in the Observer on 27 May 1910, acknowledged the ‘truly masterly painting of a male form’. When the painting was later exhibited in Australia, Lambert’s friends also recognised that the subject provided a splendid opportunity for the presentation of nudity. But this is not strictly a male nude. The figure is not naked; he is half clothed and is intentionally shown in this way to give the image greater impact and to make it more sexually charged.

    Source


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010

  • This work demonstrates George W Lambert’s considerable technical prowess. The figure is half-clothed and intentionally posed to make the image more sexually charged. This is one of a group of works by Lambert that are puzzle pictures—paintings that appear to have a meaning and yet are not strictly narrative, inviting the viewer to provide their own interpretation.

    Chesham Street has been read as a scene in a consulting room with a doctor examining the heart or lungs of his patient. But it is in fact
    a metaphor: the man seems to have nothing to hide, to be literally and metaphorically baring his chest, exposing his heart and soul to
    the world.

    Lambert was one of Australia’s most brilliant, witty and fascinating artists at the turn of the century, who produced a diverse range of work. He was born in St Petersburg, the son of an American engineer, and emigrated to Australia when he was fourteen, where he worked as a station hand in New South Wales. He studied art in Sydney and Paris, and lived and worked in London for two decades before returning to Australia in 1921 as a highly successful artist.


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

  • George W Lambert liked to entertain, to have fun and to be the centre of attention. He once made his exit by cartwheeling across the centre of a room in a flowing cape. He enjoyed dressing up and acting out roles, and remarked that ‘artificiality is the quality which makes man the master of the world’.[1]

    In Chesham Street Lambert certainly showed off. It is a bravura work in which the artist displayed his considerable ability in depicting naked flesh. He also presented the physical prowess of his bare torso; taut and tense and gleaming in the light. He showed himself with head held high, lips closed and looking down on the viewer. Or did he?

    It has been said that Lambert’s model, Williams, posed for the nude figure.[2] But the features of the face resemble those of Lambert; so it may be that Williams posed for the kneeling man to the right and not the central figure. Or did Williams pose for the torso and Lambert place his own head on it? That would be a clever conceit. We will never quite know. Certainly, the central figure was intended as a self-portrait, whether Lambert used a model or not.

    In 1910 Lambert was working in London, at the height of his powers, and receiving good notices in the press. A British critic linked Lambert’s work to that of the successful artists Augustus John and William Orpen, ‘painters of real strength, originality, and occasional charm’.[3]

    Chesham Street has been read narratively as a scene in a consulting room in Chesham Street, London with a doctor examining the heart or lungs of his patient. This, however, is not the subject of the painting but the excuse for the composition; dramatically, it is about the psychological intrusiveness of such a physical examination. In 1901, Freud published his Psychopathology of everyday life and, during the decade, his ideas about exploring the psyche gained wider understanding. This painting appears to be a metaphor: this man seems to have nothing to hide, to be literally and metaphorically bearing his chest, exposing his heart and soul to the world in an outrageous fashion. And yet, as we have seen, it is also an artifice—Lambert may merely have pretended to display his body. Moreover, the drama of the body draws attention away from the face, and the identity and psyche of the subject.

    Anne Gray

    [1] George W Lambert, Sketchbook: figure studies and horse studies [1921–30], National Gallery of  Victoria, Melbourne, p 31.

    [2] H Wilson, ‘G W Lambert, ARA, painter’, Australian Quarterly, Sydney, no 7, September 1930, p 93.

    [3] L Housman, ‘The international exhibition of Fair Women’, Manchester Guardian, 27 May 1910.


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Anne Gray Australian portraits 1880–1960 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010

  • Chesham Street is one of a group of works that Lambert painted between 1910 and 1914 which are puzzle pictures – paintings that appear to have a meaning and yet are not strictly narrative – that invite the viewer to provide their own interpretation. It is a bravura work that demonstrates Lambert’s considerable technical prowess but, more than this, it is a challenging and demanding image, which asks ‘who is this man and what is going on?’. The man sits boldly in front of the viewer, holding up his shirt and revealing his entire torso. His head is held high, his lips are closed and he looks down at the viewer, seeming somewhat superior. His pale flesh, with the play of light on it, gleams against the dark surroundings.  The model is believed to be Lambert himself.

    Contemporary critics acknowledged the ‘truly masterly painting of a male form’1 and, when exhibited in Australia, Lambert’s artist friends recognised that the subject provided a splendid opportunity for the representation of nudity. But this is not strictly speaking a male nude; it is not a naked image of the male body, as Harold Parker’s Orpheus is. The figure is not naked, he is half clothed and is intentionally shown in this way to give the image greater impact – to make it more sexually charged.

    Although contemporary critics read the image narratively, seeing it as a scene in a consulting room with a doctor examining the heart or lungs of his patient, and although Lambert did depict such a scene, this is not the subject of the painting but the excuse for the subject. Dramatically, the painting is not about a physical medical examination at a specialist’s room in Chesham Street, London, but rather the psychological intrusiveness of that process. In 1901, Freud published his Psychopathology of Everyday Life and, during the decade, his ideas about exploring the psyche gained wider understanding. This painting is a metaphor: this man seems to have nothing to hide, to be literally and metaphorically baring his bosom, exposing his heart and soul to the world.

    Anne Gray

    1P.G. Konody, London Observer, 27 May 1910, p.7.


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002