Amy Lambert said that Holiday in Essex derived from a family holiday at Mersea Island, Essex, nine miles south-east of Colchester, where sailing, fishing, bathing and walking were the family’s chief amusements (Lambert 1938, pp.45–7).
Lambert painted this work in the studio using his wife and children as his models, posed on a high platform which he took three weeks to construct. A local milkman lent his pony as a model, but it took some time to train the animal to stand still. As in The holiday group (The bathers) (cat.35), Lambert depicted two figures in parallel poses, stepping onto one leg and with the other stretched behind, suggestive of forward movement. And as in Portrait group (cat.39), he arranged the boy on the horse so that the curve of his back followed the arch of his mother’s and brother’s.
Using large brushes and fluid paint, Lambert painted this last and largest of his Velázquez-inspired images of women and children in the grand manner of earlier artists. He suggested that he took the woman’s tawny russet drapery from a painting by seventeenth-century British painter Peter Lely, the fish-carrying boy’s face from the work of an unknown Spanish painter formerly in the collection of Sir Frederick Cook, and the pony from Velázquez’s Philip IV on horseback 1635–6 (Prado, Madrid). He claimed that ‘the light was so polarised as to give me a chiaroscuro as near as possible to that used by the traditional painters of Velasquez’s time’ (ML MSS A1811, pp.70–1).
Generally, this painting was praised by contemporary critics, but on 16 May 1910 The Times’s reviewer suggested that Lambert was repeating himself, commenting that ‘we have had this lady, these children, and this pony before; and he is allowing this type of face, with the over-ripe lips, to become stereotyped’. Lambert, nonetheless, received a prize of 1600 francs from the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (New Salon) for this painting when he exhibited it in Paris in 1911.