George W Lambert’s ‘War composition’, a memory of World War One


Australian war artists have made a rich contribution to Australian art, while playing a significant role in Australia’s interpretation of its wartime history. One of Australia’s earliest and most respected was George W. Lambert, who produced a number of notable war works, including Walk (An incident at Romani) 1919–22, which was commissioned and gifted to QAGOMA by the 2nd Light Horse Ambulance in memory of comrades who did not return from the war.

George W Lambert, Australia/England 1873-1930 / (War composition) c.1922 / Oil on canvas / 33.5 x 42cm / Gift of Philip Bacon, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2013. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

(War composition) c.1922 was painted after Lambert had completed his appointment as a war artist and had returned to Australia in 1921. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Lambert, unable to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force in London, spent most of the war years in the Voluntary Training Corps, where he taught horse-riding, and later as a divisional works officer supervising timber-getting in Wales. It was not until December 1917 that he was appointed as an official war artist, AIF, with the honorary rank of lieutenant, and commissioned to execute 25 sketches and to paint The Charge of the Light Horse at Beersheba on 31 October 1917. This was an intense period of artistic activity that involved travelling to Egypt, Gallipoli and Palestine.

It is believed (War composition) may have been cut down from a larger, unresolved painting, which initially included a scene of figures in a similar landscape, with this painting occupying the top right-hand corner. The larger painting was possibly a preliminary concept for the War Memorial mural competition for the State Library of Victoria. There is other evidence of Lambert recycling works: the painting Portrait of Thea Proctor 1905, which features the head of the sitter, is in actuality a small section cut from a much larger painting originally entitled Alethea (also 1905). Another painting by Lambert that has been cropped from a larger original is The artist and his wife 1904. Evidence suggests that the work was in the artist’s studio at the time of his death and exhibited at Anthony Horderns Gallery, Sydney, in 1930.

RELATED: ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in those forces quickly became known as Anzacs, and the pride they took in that name endures to this day.

RELATED: George W. Lambert

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George W Lambert, Australia/England 1873-1930 / The artist and his wife 1904 / Oil on canvas / 81.2 x 81.5cm / Purchased 1965 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

We have no knowledge of Lambert travelling to the battlefields in France, so we can assume that (War composition) may have been inspired by a photograph or perhaps a press description. This tranquil rural scene of wheat sheaves and fields is marred by the blasted stump of a tree, broken fence palings and the carcass of a horse. In the background, the open fields appear to be marked by what could be trenches and bomb craters; the only sign of potential life is a group of buildings. The painting depicts a different theatre of war from Lambert’s Walk (An incident at Romani).

George W. Lambert, Australia/England 1873-1930 / Walk (An incident at Romani) 1919-22 / 92 x 138.1cm / Oil on canvas / Gift of the 2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance in memory of Comrades who did not return from the war c.1922 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

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