Although The half-back (Maurice Lambert) is obviously a portrait of an individual, Lambert intended it to be seen as suggestive of a type, and gave it a more generalised title. He first titled it ‘Young man in a white sweater’ in London in 1920 and at the Pittsburgh International in 1921, but in Sydney in 1922 gave it the more athletic title, The half-back . It is his own son Maurice, then an eighteen-year-old sculpture student.
Lambert gave his subject a powerful and sensuous presence like that of a matinee idol. This was partly a result of the way Lambert depicted the sultry eyes, the pouting expression of his mouth, his dark, brushed-back hair and his white sweater with the raised collar emphasising the nape of his neck. He focused on the head and torso, silhouetting them against the plain blue backdrop.
Laying the paint thinly onto the canvas to create a flat, matt surface, Lambert carefully delineated the face and clothing. He sketched in the background more roughly. On 16 December 1922 Lambert told his dealer W.H. Gill that this painting was his ‘tour de force’, and that it was considered to be so in England (ML MSS 285/6).
Maurice Lambert (1901–1964) was Lambert’s eldest son. He studied sculpture under Derwent Wood at the Royal College of Art, London, from 1918 to 1923, and then worked as Wood’s assistant from 1924–25. He also attended Chelsea Polytechnic between 1919 and 1924. His work of the late 1920s and 1930s was radical, experimental in the use of materials, and he was considered to be one of the new group of British sculptors. However, as Professor of Sculpture at the Royal Academy from 1950 to 1958, he became closely linked with the establishment and towards the end of his life upheld conventional views on the role and function of art. At the time Lambert painted this portrait Maurice was not only studying sculpture at the Royal College, but was also working with Lambert in his studio as a model and a painting assistant.
This portrait was formerly in the collection of the Adelaide painter Hans Heysen, and was much admired by Heysen’s daughter, Nora.