If Lambert painted this group portrait from life, he must have done so in Paris after he arrived there on 3 February 1901 and before April 1902 when Hugh Ramsay left Paris for London. The image of Ramsay closely follows Lambert’s c.1901 full-face portrait of his friend. Ambrose Patterson returned to Paris from abroad in 1901, when he studied at the Académies Colarossi and Delécluze with Lambert and Ramsay, and lived in a studio in the same building as Ramsay. If painted in Paris, the figure on the right is likely to be one of Lambert’s Parisian acquaintances, and given the book in his hand he may be a writer, and probably Arthur Adams.
The format of the painting is similar to that of Lambert’s mythological painting Death of Adonis c.1901 (cat.14),but it also resembles – with its frieze-like arrangement of figures and its central figure holding a bowl as if making an oblation – Rogier van der Weyden’s Christian altarpiece Braque family triptych c.1450, which Lambert would have seen in the Louvre. It is probable that
Lambert intended the image to be a symbolic homage to the arts, with Patterson and Ramsay signifying classical and modern culture, the outer figures art and writing, and his wife Amy eternal female creativity.
Sarah Engledow has suggested that in form and composition the painting resembles a decorative piece destined to hang over a door in a large, high-ceilinged house, and that it refers to the expatriate experience, teaming a medieval European castle with an Australian sheep and tree stump. She suggests that the figures wear various expressions of playfulness, pensiveness and gravity, and that their mixture of attitudes and outfits creates a puzzle that simultaneously intrigues and excludes (Engledow 2005, p.26).