Henry Lamb 1883 - 1960

Provenance

Captain John Ernest Crawford Flitch
Thence by descent

Description

In 1905, taking classes at the fledgling Chelsea School of Art, the young Henry Lamb quickly struck up a friendship with Augustus John, a founder of the School. Whilst beginning as a friendship of mutual admiration, for Lamb the relationship soon became an intense, complex infatuation. He was to model both his art, and his romances, upon the examples set by the flamboyant and successful John, whose tutelage rapidly developed the nascent talent of his protégé. Upon the tragic early death of John’s wife, Ida, what had been an intense friendship was complicated further; Lamb and his mistress, ‘Euphemia’ began a precarious romantic exchange with Augustus John and his own mistress Dorelia McNeill, who cared for his children and was the focus of much of his best work. Lamb was to develop a passion for Dorelia that would create a lasting rift between himself and John, with Lamb harbouring both an infatuation with Dorelia, and a powerful resentment against John.

In this awkward period Dorelia sat only very rarely for Lamb, and as a model she was very much the artistic ‘property’ of Augustus John. The present work, however, features her younger sister Edie (Ede) McNeill, who in Dorelia’s place was a regular and patient sitter for Lamb – one whose image fortunately remained outside John’s artistic oeuvre. Keith Clements describes a drawing of Edie made by Lamb in the same period: ‘dressed as if auditioning for Eliza Doolittle, or simply waiting in the wings of an Edwardian music hall { … } Edie pouts with indifference and stares vacantly past the artist’. That Edie’s dress and demeanour are so prosaic compared with John’s colourful romanticism at this time, may be an expression of Lamb’s efforts to escape the influence of his rival, taking a step towards the grimier realities of Walter Sickert’s London; the present work, painted in 1909, is one of several produced in a studio rented in Fitzroy Street, with Sickert as a close neighbour; Lamb would often take his paintings to the older artist’s studio when needing advice. The path of Lamb’s work was always an erratic one; its direction reflecting not only the work of those fellow artists he admired, but also the influences of the many significant figures in his social circles. Virginia Woolf, Jacob Epstein, Lady Ottoline Morell and Lytton Strachey were all a part of Lamb’s world; in many ways his paintings colourfully trace the complex maze of extraordinary inter-relationships of art and society in Edwardian London.

Keith Clements, Henry Lamb: The Artist and His Friends, Redcliffe, Bristol, 1985, p97