DETAIL : George LAMBERT  Russia 1873 � Australia 1930  'Chesham Street' [Chesney Street; The Doctor; Harley Street] 1910  oil on canvas National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased in 1993 DETAIL : George LAMBERT  Russia 1873 � Australia 1930  'The convex mirror' c.1916  oil with pencil on wood panel private collection
George LAMBERT | The charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, 31 October 1917

Russia 1873 – Australia 1930
Australia 1887-1900; England 1900-01; France 1901-02; England 1902-21; Australia from 1921
The charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, 31 October 1917 1920
oil on canvas
122.7 (h) x 247.1 (w) cm
Australian War Memorial, Canberra, commissioned in 1918, acquired in 1920
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The Battle of Beersheba took place on 31 October 1917 as part of the larger British campaign against the Turkish positions in Palestine. The 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade under Brigadier General William Grant charged more than four miles towards the entrenched Turkish 27th Division, wielding their bayonets as swords, and captured the critical wells within the town.

Lambert depicted the charge at Beersheba at the moment when the Australian Light Horsemen dismounted and, with their bayonets, attacked the Turks in the trenches. He showed the charge from the side rather than face on, and this enabled him to present a mass of figures and to include both Australians and the entrenched enemy. He created an impression of the chaos of a battle charge, with horsemen galloping under fire, men and horses falling, a horse rearing with its rider, and soldiers fighting in a hand-to-hand struggle in the trenches.

The composition recalls that of traditional battle paintings – such as Salvator Rosa’s Battle scene c.1652 (Musée du Louvre, Paris), which has a similar confusion of juxtaposed groups of fighting horsemen within a compressed space. Through this visual connection with traditional combat imagery, Lambert emphasised the legendary nature of the Australian charge at Beersheba, ‘the last great successful mounted charge in history’ (Gammage, p.134).

In March 1918 Lambert obtained facts about the charge from men in the 4th Light Horse Brigade whom he met in Palestine during his tour of duty. He rode the course which the charge had taken with two guide officers, one of whom, Major Lawson, had commanded the leading squadron in the charge. He was given an idea of the mass of horses and men involved in the charge when Light Horsemen staged a re-enactment of the event for him at Moascar, the Australian Light Horse Remounts Unit base camp in Egypt. The only photograph he saw was one which had been taken after the charge had been launched and which showed little more than a cloud of dust. Back in London Lambert’s son Maurice and the model Luigi di Luca posed in uniform for him, and he made several pencil studies of them. He also referred to two oil sketches he had made at Beersheba of the trenches and to his pencil design of the composition (ML MSS 97/4, item 4; Lambert 1928).

The painting was commissioned by the Australian government through the Australian High Commission in London in December 1918, for £500, as part of the official war art scheme. Lambert completed the painting and in December 1920 submitted it to the High Commission, which then handed it to the Australian War Memorial.

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