While still a student with Julian Ashton, Lambert portrayed the weather-beaten face of this Australian bushman. He painted this head and shoulder portrait using broad strokes of a flat brush, showing the old man looking directly outwards, depicting his deep-set eyes, smiling face, fluffy side whiskers and sinewy neck. He captured the bright light on the tip of the man’s nose and cheek and the shadow of his felt hat, as well as the intense white of his shirt. This suggests that Lambert painted it in the open air under direct sunlight. Like others at this time, he used purple for his shadows.
This is one of several images of Australian bushmen that Lambert painted at this time. Although a student work, it demonstrates Lambert’s ability to capture character, and also to convey a general type – a typical bush worker. In his use of the flat brush, it shows the influence of Ashton and other Sydney artists.
It is possible that the Old Joe that Lambert depicted in this portrait was a station hand at George Pitt’s property, Sunnyside, North Richmond. Pitt reportedly gave artists ‘free run of the house and orchard’, and told them to take a horse whenever they liked (Jane Clark, in Lane 2007, p.263). Lambert is known to have stayed at the Travellers Rest hotel near Pitt’s property – and Lambert’s Bulletin colleague Percy Spence also painted a portrait of this station hand, Old Joe.
Lambert showed this painting in the South Australian Society of Arts ‘Federal exhibition’ in Adelaide in 1898, from which it was purchased by the Art Gallery of South Australia.