Collection of the National Gallery of Australia
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"I stayed at home and worked and spent a quiet evening at Lambert’s, nursing the baby. Maurice is growing like fun and tells us great yarns. Tell Auntie that Mrs Lambert is awfully good to me and darns my socks."1
Letter from Hugh Ramsay in Paris to his brother Harry in Australia, 19 February, 1902
Making pictures features works of art by the Australian artists George Lambert, Hugh Ramsay, Thea Proctor and Rupert Bunny who were working in Europe during the Edwardian era. Some of the most charming and sensitive works by the artists featured in Making pictures are images of friends, family and self-portraits. Whether a formal study or an informal sketch, these drawings provide not only an insight into artist’s working methods, but also a snapshot of the personalities and friendships that formed during the era.
In September 1900 George Lambert and Hugh Ramsay met aboard the SS Persic. Both were setting off for Europe to advance their artistic careers, Lambert as the winner of the inaugural New South Wales Society of Artists’ Travelling Scholarship, and Ramsay fulfilling his determination to travel and study in Paris. Ambitious and eager to become part of the European scene, they developed a strong rapport and became firm friends, eventually studying at the same school in Paris during 1901.
Lambert’s pen and ink drawing Hugh Ramsay 1900 is an image of the young Ramsay, seemingly exhausted yet relaxed in the company of friends. Some years later, Amy Lambert recalled this work as a ‘striking portrait of him, a rapid wash-drawing made when he arrived one evening at our studio, train-sick and weary with social calls, which explained his unusual dress of morning coat and silk hat. He left, somewhat revived by tea and sympathy, with impressive injunctions to us to make all haste to Paris’.2
Settling in Paris in early 1901, Ramsay filled the pages of his sketchbooks with silvery pencil sketches of the everyday objects of his world alongside many self-portrait studies. Utilising the resources at hand was not only an inexpensive and flexible way to work, but it eliminated the pressure of working with professional models.3 It was also a means to practise sketching familiar people and things as exercises for later compositions. Many of Ramsay’s sketches are candid observations of himself, his facial expressions reflecting a variety of moods that span from being deeply serious to relaxed and playful.
Between 1900 and 1910 George Lambert produced many captivating images using his wife, Amy, two children, Maurice and Constant, and close friend, the artist Thea Proctor as models. Proctor and Lambert had met in the late 1890s in Sydney and developed a long-standing friendship that would continue over some three decades until Lambert’s death in 1930. Moving to London in 1903, Proctor visited the Lambert family regularly and her image is seen in a number of significant paintings. In contrast to the introspection of Ramsay, Lambert’s subjects were not necessarily posing as themselves, but were more like actors in a play.
In Study for ‘The blue hat’ (Thea Proctor), Lambert depicts the model with her back to the viewer and her head turned, revealing the carefully rendered profile of Proctor’s face. This drawing is one of two studies of Proctor in the national collection that relates to the painting The blue hat 1909 in the Kerry Stokes Collection (Perth, Australia). In the finished painting the model’s hat is gone, she poses in a fashionable skirt and blouse, draped in a golden shawl.
Thea Proctor also made images of the people close to her, transporting her subjects into a world of reverie and drama. One of her early lithographs Mother and son 1915, from the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia,is a contemplative scene of mother and child reading, in this case, Amy Lambert with the young Maurice. Some four years later Proctor produced the lithograph Before rehearsal. The couple are Maurice Lambert and Penelope Spencer, who was a successful dancer at Covent Garden and engaged to Maurice at the time.4 Maurice, now aged 18 years, stands leaning against the bay window with the ease and introspection of a serious young man. Penelope greets the viewer relaxing on a chair. She is illuminated by sunlight streaming through the window, falling onto her fanned skirt and collar. Proctor’s long-standing interest in the escapism of theatre and dressing up is displayed here, themes that she also explored in her fan designs and other prints.
On exhibition at the same time as The Edwardians: Secrets and Desires, Making pictures recreates an artist’s studio from 100 years ago. The exhibition includes the original easel and paintbox belonging to Hugh Ramsay along with several artists’ sketchbooks. Children are invited to make a self-portrait, or a portrait of a friend, and imagine what it would have been like to be an artist in the Edwardian era.
National Gallery of Australia
2 Amy Lambert, Thirty years of an artist’s life: GW Lambert, ARA Society of Artists, Sydney, 1938, reprinted 1977, p. 28.
3 Patricia Fullerton, Hugh Ramsay his life and work, Hudson Publishing , Victoria 1988, p72.
4 Author’s correspondence with Roderick J Barman, NGA file January 2004