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One of Australia’s most influential artists, George Washington Lambert (1873–1930) was versatile, talented and prolific. His subjects ranged from striking Edwardian portraiture to iconic images of the Australian landscape, from paintings of major battles during World War I to large sculptural works created during the later years of his life.
Born in St Petersburg, Russia, Lambert migrated with his widowed mother and sisters to Sydney in 1887, where he attended Julian Ashton’s art classes. Following the award of the first New South Wales Travelling Fellowship to Europe in 1900, he spent most of the next 20 years based in London. He considered himself to be an Australian artist and finally returned in 1921.
A Man with a Rabbit is a beautifully rendered, somewhat playful portrait that is at once classically posed and relaxed — it suggests social credibility yet hints at eccentricity.
An inscription on the reverse of the canvas, dated March 1932, notes that Lambert had ‘painted a portrait group of Baroness de Neufville and two children and the “Man with the rabbit” is a portrait sketch of the Baron de Neufville’.
Painted in de Neufville’s London home, Houlgate, the painting was exhibited in the Modern Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition in London in 1910 titled ‘Le Baron de Neufville’.
Portraiture was Lambert’s principle source of income, yet A Man with a Rabbit seems unlikely to have been a commissioned work. In her account of his career, Thirty Years of an Artist’s Life (1938), Lambert’s wife, Amy, recorded that he refused to sell the portrait to the sitter. Lambert kept the portrait until the end of his life.
A Man with a Rabbit is one of several works acquired by the State Library from Lambert’s estate in 1931.
Executive Director, Library & Information Services and Dixson Librarian, State Library of NSW