In The smile of Pan Lambert placed a cynically smiling plaster head of Pan on a table beside a smiling woman and contrasted the sculpted head with the human head but echoed the expression of the sculpture in the woman’s face. We do not know any more about this woman than can be deduced from the image. By counterpoising the sculpted bust with this lady, Lambert may have intended to suggest that she was a follower of Pan. But the woman, like the sculpted
Pan, seems to be turned to stone, fixed without motion.
This clinically cool painting is typical of Lambert’s precise and ordered approach at the time. The objects have been carefully selected and meticulously painted. His limited use of colour contributes to the disquieting mood of the image, which is increased by the odd juxtaposition of human, natural and man-made forms.
Pan’s hybrid nature as beast and god made him an ideal character through which to comment on the opposition between natural forces and the ideal or the civilised. As in Pan is dead (cat.48), in this painting Lambert included white gloves, a status symbol of good manners in the Edwardian era, and white flowers, the symbol of truth and purity. This reinforces the triple-sided aspect of this image – the contrast between the bestial side of Pan and the rigidity of Edwardian society, and the contrast of both of these against the innocence of the flowers. But the imagery becomes more complex if we see the flowers as narcissi, the symbol of innocence but also of conceit, self-love and excessive pride – and of self-knowledge.