In Weighing the flee ce Lambert made an image of the successful grazier. He also suggested the importance of wool to the Australian economy and reflected on the good fortune of the landowners of the 1920s. He located the figures artificially in their environment as if they were in a tableau of modern life, actors on a stage set. This pastoralist is not a poorly clad labourer, as is the man in Lambert’s Across the black soil plains of 1899 (cat.9); he is a well-tailored manager standing on the edge of the scene, watching his employees at work and looking at his impressive fleece. His wife sits on a wool-bale passively beside him, a further symbol of his achievements.
The figures are Mr Leigh Sadleir Falkiner and his wife Beatrice, depicted in a brick-walled woolshed on the Falkiners’ property Wanganella Estate, near Deniliquin in the Riverina district of New South Wales. They look at a fleece being weighed by Falkiner’s nephew, John Robert Carse. The bookkeeper, holding a notebook in his hand, was Philip Darbyshire. The merino rams were both champions, and Falkiner’s record-priced fleece is deliberately placed in the centre of the composition.
Lambert believed this to be ‘a masterpiece of small portrait grouping’, painted in eight days. He was proud of his attention to detail in his depiction of the interior of the shed, noting the way that he had painted the ‘beams and the swallow droppings on the beams, corrugated iron, oil drum, kerosene tin, wool bale, brand on the wool bale’. On 26 August 1921 he described it as a ‘picture I’ve had in my mind for 25 years’ (ML MSS 97/10).
Contemporary Australian critics, such as that for the Argus on 15 September 1921, approved of this work because it was a typical image of Australian life and a national subject, whilst also admiring Lambert’s ‘almost pre-Raphaelite’ attention to detail and his restraint in colour and tone.
This work was commissioned by Falkiner, but he did not purchase it, as he did not like the way Lambert had portrayed himself and his wife (NGA file 81/944). Lambert subsequently sold it to Sir Baldwin Spencer for £600.