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Henry Lamb Self Portrait Sketch SMALL

Henry Lamb: Out of the Shadows 26 May – 30 September

My notes from the very interesting Volunteer briefing…..

I was one of a majority at a recent briefing led by Adrian Green, our Director, who, when he asked if we had heard of Henry Lamb, had to admit: “No!”

Lamb’s work was last exhibited in Manchester in the 1980s. Thirty years. Adrian argued it was time Lamb came out of the shadows.

Born in 1883 in Adelaide, Australia, of English parents who returned to Manchester soon after his birth, Henry Lamb was expected to follow his father into an academic life. He briefly studied medicine  but came under the influence of Augustus John and others in that ‘bohemian’ group and turned to painting full time. He married ‘Euphemia’ (not her real name) in 1906 and moved to London. This was a stormy relationship, however, and they parted, she becoming companion to Augustus John and various others in the meantime.

Lamb, and some others in the circle, later went to Paris and eventually to Brittany. There, Lamb became friends with a family, the Favennecs, and painted ‘the local colour’ for some time. From this period and place we see produced ‘Death of a Peasant’ 1911, The Lady with Lizards’ 1911, ‘Baker’s Wife’ 1911, ‘Breton Boy’ and sketches of the family. We don’t always know from Lamb’s portraits who the sitters were, but the particularly poignant ‘Death of a Peasant’ which is literally that – a portrait of a dying woman – is thought to be grandmere Favennec.

HL 1

He had a diverse style, some of which was fairly experimental, and there was particularly experimental work in 1912.  ‘Study for Phantasy’ is reminiscent of some of Picasso’s paintings.

Then there came the Donegal period, drawings of fisher-folk, and so on. ‘Gola Island’ is a good example. The ‘artificial’, graphic element in these paintings is deliberate. But in many ways it is his war work which is most striking. A 1914 self-portrait is telling as he had just signed up as a military doctor. He survived, and was awarded the MC towards the end of the war.

His 2nd WW portraits of ‘other ranks’ are the most evocative though he did many more formal portraits of officers also, as required. Some of the paintings are very unusual, being of simple activities, eg squaddies crawling under trucks.

The paintings of Poole come from the inter war years when he was recovering from a gas attack and mental health problems after the 1st WW. These tend to be gritty, urban scenes but with a certain charm and certainly interest.

HL 5

More portraits of upper crust types (friends) and other artists and their families followed, eg Evelyn Waugh (see the front of museum flyer), Romilly John.

HL 6

He lived his final years in Coombe Bissett which is the museum’s connection with him, and had married into the Packenham family (Pansy, second wife) in the 1920s. From his time in Wiltshire there are paintings of the landscape in the area, some realistic, some contrived. Some later paintings were, interestingly, re-workings of much earlier versions.

He died in 1960.

There will be about 90 Henry Lamb paintings on display in the museum, and a new publication to buy. Make sure you come and see it all!