The Australian-born painter, who moved to Manchester as a child, was associated with the Bloomsbury Group after he met a number of the artists and writers via his tutor, the Welsh painter Augustus John.
He produced a string of sensitive portraits which are highly regarded and often commercially valuable, depending on the sitter. This was most recently shown by a bohemian depiction of Cecil Beaton from 1935 making £110,000 at Christie’s last October.
At Bonhams' (27.5/25/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) sale in New Bond Street on June 20, a small self-portrait was on offer. The 20 x 16in (51 x 41cm) oil on canvasboard appeared to be contemporaneous with Lamb’s self-portrait of 1950 in the National Portrait Gallery.
Only four other self-portraits by the artist are known with three of them, including the present work, seemingly dating from around the same time. Showing himself quiet and confident, it perhaps also contained deeper undertones (Lamb suffered from periodic bouts of depression and Lytton Strachey describing him as “like some desperate, proud, fallen angel, plunging into darkness…”).
The work was estimated at £10,000- 15,000 and sold at £16,000.
A few weeks later, Bonhams’ Modern British art sale in Knightsbridge on July 31 offered a couple of earlier works showing the artist seemingly enjoying life in the quiet haven of the English countryside. These included a sketch for a family group that attracted a good deal of attention against a £800-1200 estimate.
It was originally exhibited at The Leicester Galleries in 1931, the same year his second wife Lady Pansy Pakenham gave birth to the couple’s first daughter. Seemingly depicting Lamb and his young family, it was one of a good number of works where he painted his own family at different times in his life. Drawing strong interest, it sold at £11,500 to a British private buyer – a strong sum for a sketch by Lamb.
Two lots later came Study for The Artist and His Wife, another oil and pencil on board which, in this case, was a study for a known painting. Incidentally, the larger finished painting was being offered by dealer Messums for £88,500 in early 2021 (see Dealers’ Diary in ATG No 2479).
Dated ’30 and measuring 16 x 17in (41 x 43cm), it shows the artist and his wife standing in their garden two years after moving to Coombe Bissett in Wiltshire and, as with the above sketch, had also been originally exhibited at The Leicester Galleries. Depicting a bountiful landscape with the couple offset to the left beneath an apple tree, the catalogue mentioned how the composition was reminiscent of Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews from c.1750 with an echo of them living ‘in an English arcadia’.
Here the estimate was £2000-3000 and it took a £5800 bid, selling to a different UK buyer.