Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Henry Lamb

Death of a Peasant, 1911, Henry Lamb

Henry Taylor Lamb Self-portrait, 1914
Artists have always had a tendency to search for beauty. They also like to tell a story, not so much in paint today, but through film and video. In search of beauty, artists have long dwelt on stories and themes such as love, honor, duty, physical beauty, even eroticism. The last place one might go in search of beauty is to war. War, by its very nature, is ugly. It's destructive. It's wasteful. It's the very embodiment of hatred. But as recently as Vietnam, art and war were called together by the military in seeking a lasting tribute to duty, honor, and memorialized tribute to those who died. There are those who would claim quite rightly that art and war are diametrically opposed. Indeed, when war came to Europe in the 1940s art suffered tremendously, some of the greatest art treasures from the past having yet to be recovered. All of the past conflicts between art and war must have weighed heavily on the British painter, Henry Taylor Lamb as his government called upon him to, in essence, paint two war.
The Artist's Wife, 1933, Henry Lamb. He often painted his portrait subjects reading, perhaps to keep their minds occupied during the long hours of posing.
Breton Boy, 1911, Henry Lamb.
The painting, for which this was a
preparatory drawing, recently brought
sixty-thousand pounds at auction.
Henry Lamb was born in Adelaide, Australia, the son of the mathematics professor, Sir Horace Lamb who was teaching at Adelaide University at the time (1883). When offered a position at Victoria University in Manchester two years later, the elder Lamb moved his family to England. There young Henry grew up and trained first at Manchester University to be a doctor, but his heart wasn't in it. He wanted to be an artist. He transferred to the Académie de La Palette in Paris where he studied until about 1908. Following graduation, the young artist spent three years working in Brittany where he painted his first major work, and perhaps his best, Death of a Peasant (top) from 1911. The work is striking because it incorporates the mind of an artist with the pathos of a doctor, one who has not yet grown immune to the inevitability of death.
Advanced Dressing Station at the Struma, 1916, Henry Lamb.
Notice the doctor literally works in a trench.
Felicia, 1947, Henry Lamb, (his daughter).
With the coming of WW I, England needed doctors on the front lines. Lamb returned to his medical studies and became on. He served with the Royal Army Medical Corps as a battalion medical officer with the 5th Battalion, The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was awarded the Military Cross. Serving in the British protectorate of Palestine as well as on the Western Front, Lamb was badly gassed toward the end of the war. He was demobilized in 1919 and took up painting again as he recovered from what was probably German mustard gas (the most common gas used during the war).

Military Exercises, Devonshire, ca. 1941, Henry Lamb

Neville Chamberlain, 1939,
Henry Lamb.
In 1928, Lamb married Lady Pansy Pakenham, a British novelist and daughter of the 5th Earl of Longford. They had three children, a son and two daughters. When the next war came along around 1940, Lamb was fifty-three years old and still suffering the long-term effects of having been gassed. He was no longer suitable as a doctor on the front lines. By then he was a much sought after portrait artist as seen in his impressive portrait of then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (right). Lamb was appointed a full-time war artist by the War Artists' Advisory Committee for whom he painted numerous portraits of high ranking officers. Lamb also painted ordinary servicemen and women, many of them Canadian, while stationed at the Old Sarum aerodrome. There he also painted tank training exercises.

 The Command Post, 1942, Henry Lamb
Boy with Toy, 1944, Henry Lamb.
After fulfilling his duties in a second world war, Lamb was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1949, and during the remainder of his life until his death in 1960, served on various museum boards of trustees while continuing to paint portraits of war heroes, friends, and family. Lamb is said to have been a very gentle man. This trait is evident in both his service to his country during two wars and in the faces and figures of those he painted. It's unlikely he ever managed to come to terms with the disparities of art and war. That may well be an impossibility. But his love of humanity very often shines through his works, even those involving the inhumanity of mankind's greatest tragedy of the spirit.

Boy Reading, 1956, Henry Lamb.
Is this the same boy as above?


No comments:

Post a Comment