This is the original design for the composition of Lambert’s large canvas The charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba (cat.79), which was commissioned by the Australian government as part of the official war art scheme. He began devising this composition in London in 1918 after he first returned from Palestine, and continued to work on it in 1920, when he began the canvas.
It is about half the size of the finished painting and is squared-up to facilitate its enlargement and transfer onto the canvas. Lambert made changes in the completed painting: he altered the direction of a rearing horse in the lower right, he enlarged the scale of the soldier in the centre of the composition, and replaced a horse held by a horseman on the left with a group of Turks in trenches.
His approach was the slow, studied process of the studio tradition. Lambert made the drawing entirely in pencil, rubbed in places with the finger to create a sense of tone. He was only required to submit the final painting to the Australian War Memorial, and so he retained the drawing until his death.
Although Lambert believed in ‘drawing for its own sake’ he did make a number of drawings such as this one which were composition studies for paintings, as well as studies for the individual figures that he included in his large-scale paintings.