GEORGE LAMBERT  1700(1710?)-1765
A Brief Biography - By Phil Lambert

 

Described by many as the 'Father of English Landscape Oil Painting', George Lambert was instrumental in depicting the English landscape as a fashionable alternative to the classical and Italianate landscape that had hitherto been in vogue, as well as the traditional portraiture of the day that was popular among the gentry. He has numerous paintings hanging in the Tate Gallery, Government Art Collections, the British Museum, many other art galleries and museums worldwide, as well as many private collections.

In the Cabinet Room at No 10 Downing Street, hangs a painting of St James Park viewed from the patio at No10, with the garden of No 10 and Sir Robert Walpole in the foreground. This painting is by George Lambert. Sir Robert Walpole was the first Prime Minister, and King George ll presented him with No 10, which was to become the London Home of all future British Prime Ministers.

HIS LIFE: Aside from his paintings, George Lambert was also employed by John Rich (Father of English Pantomime!) from the early 1720's to 1732 at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre as scene painter. From 1732 until his death, Rich also employed him as scene painter at Covent Garden Theatre. He also assisted William Hogarth in painting the huge 'murals' in the entrance hall and stairwell at St Bartholomew's Hospital.

The influence of his scenery painting can be seen in his earlier landscape paintings, where detail gave way to great swathes of colour in the skies, fields and hills. He became renowned for his views of country houses and estates which earned him rewarding commissions. He earned a contract from the East India Company to paint views of their overseas holdings in India, St Helena and the Cape of Good Hope.

He was a tutor at St Martin's Lane Academy, alongside William Hogarth and Francis Hayman, among others. His pupils were numerous and included John Inigo Richards, John Collett, Jonathan Skelton, and William Taverner. He became chairman and finally president of The Society of Artists of Great Britain, until his death. This Society was the forerunner of what we know today as The Royal Academy of Art. He also became a governor of the Foundling Hospital, an institution for orphan children set up by Sir Thomas Coram. Many artists and musicians sponsored the hospital, and donated paintings. In effect, it became the country's first public art gallery and exists today as a museum.

DATE OF BIRTH: No records found. The date of 1700 is computed from 'diaries' of a fellow artists George Vertue, who in 1722 described him as "...a young hopeful painter in landscape, aged 22...". This is the first recorded fact regarding George Lambert, upon his 'arrival' upon the London scene. His first 22 years are a complete mystery.

ORIGINS: No records found. George Lambert was known as "a person of great respectability and professionalism......... coming from a minor branch of an old Surrey family with aristocratic connections, and with perhaps musical rather than artistic ambitions". This is thought to refer to the Lambert family of Banstead / Woodmansterne, but there appear to be no records of such a connection. The painter William Hogarth, a great friend of Lambert, designed a 'tongue-in-cheek' bookplate for him, thought to be based on the shield of the Banstead family, or possibly the Earls of Cavan. Other references put his origins in Kent in 1710, maybe a branch of that same Surrey family, but this is less credible.

MARRIAGE: No definite records found of any marriage or children, with no mention of family in his will.

DEATH: The only officially recorded fact found. He died (overnight?) on 30th or 31st January 1765 at his home at The Piazza, Covent Garden of an unknown illness, from which he had suffered for several years. but was active to the end. Many artists at that time lived on the 'bread-line', and in that respect, Lambert's estate was considerable. The sale of his effects included 50-odd paintings by other artists in addition to his own, 800 books - each with Hogarth's bookplate pasted in, elaborate bookcases and other items of furniture, etc. In his will, he left everything to his servant, Anne Terry 'for her care of me in several dangerous fits of illness". He is buried in the Church of St Paul's, Covent Garden. The picture above hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

The author Phil Lambert at work



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