JAMES LAMBERT 1725-1788
A Brief Biography - By Phil Lambert
The Painters Lambert of Lewes, Sussex James Lambert Snr. 1725-1788 and James Lambert Jnr. 1741-1799 It has been recorded that James Lambert Snr. (1725-1788), bookseller, stationer, landscape painter and musician, born at Willingdon in Sussex, was the son of George Lambert (1700-1765) - "father of English Landscape painting", and scene painter at Covent Garden. This is not the case - there is no evidence to hand that George of Covent Garden ever married or had children. But even more conclusive is the fact that James Snr's origins can be traced back through the family tree well beyond George's existence - agreed, there are numerous 'Georges' in that family tree, nephews, brother, grandfather, great grandfather, and great-great grandfather. But none of these has a connection with Covent Garden.
Similarly, it has been recorded that James Lambert jnr (1741-1799), landscape painter, sign painter and coach painter, born at Cliffe in Sussex was the son of James Lambert Snr. of Willingdon. This also incorrect, as James jnr was in fact James Snr's nephew, son of his brother Thomas.
James Snr. and Thomas were two of eight children (four boys, four girls) of John Lambert (1690-1764) of Willingdon and the family moved to Lewes around 1730. James Snr. became organist at St Thomas church at Cliffe in 1745 and continued as such until his death in 1788. He also taught music at Coombe Place and composed a number of musical works. But his great love was for painting and it became his primary source of income when, in later years, he joined in partnership with his nephew James jnr. They produced an incredible number of paintings and drawings, often each signing their individual pieces as simply 'James Lambert', thus causing some confusion.
The elder James was probably the more competent artist and often did not sign his at all, or allowed his nephew to sign a piece that they had both worked on. The younger started adding 'junior' to his signings only after his uncle's death! They often enclosed their works in circles or ovals. The known number of works produced by these two now exceeds 600 pieces, ranging from pencil sketches to watercolours and oils, as follows: 269 watercolours of Sussex churches, abbeys, castles and country houses, commissioned by (Sir) William Burrell, now in the British Library.
These were principally for historical record and required to be 'precise' as opposed to 'artistic'. For these purposes, James jnr would often use a ruler and square to produce buildings, while uncle would add the trees, foliage and other attributes etc. 49 other watercolours of similar subjects, now with the Sussex Archaeological Society, Brighton Museum and Yale Centre for British Art. 70 watercolours in a folio now held by the Sussex Archaeological Society. 35 sketches of Hurstmonceux Castle now at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Yale, and Sussex Archaeological Society. These were measured drawings for record purposes and were some of junior's best work. 62 pencil drawings of Sussex churches and castles now in the British Library. Additionally, auction records at Sotheby's and Christie's show many large oil paintings of both real and imaginary landscapes, cattle and sheep, having passed through their auction rooms, and now in private collections but their current whereabouts mostly unknown.
Exhibition catalogues also reveal many public showings of their work. James Snr. displayed works in London at the Free Society of Artists and the Royal Academy, most of which were offered for sale. It is thought that some of the works credited to James Lambert (Snr.?) in the Society catalogue, were in fact works by George Lambert 1700-1765, of Covent Garden (the Society's first president!), just to add to the confusion! [Confusing? There were other James Lamberts around at the same time - one a sculptor, who showed in the same exhibition. Another J Lambert performed similar historical recording in the Newcastle area!]
Both James Lambert Snr. and jnr died in the Cliffe, but as the church there had no graveyard, they were buried at St John sub Castro in Lewes. Memorials on the outer wall of the chancel read: "Mr James Lambert, Landscape Painter, late of the Cliffe, died 7th December 1788 aged 63 years, his affectionate nephew erects this." "Mr James Lambert, Herald and Landscape Painter, late of the Cliffe, died March 22nd 1799. aged 57 years. His surviving friend erects this." James Lambert Snr. had married Mary Winton (herself already indirectly related to the Lamberts by marriage, and also to the three Smith brothers, landscape painters from Chichester) in 1760. They had one child, a daughter, who died the following year. Of his other two brothers, one (John) never married, and the other, George, married and moved to Hollington, Sussex, and had five children. Of these, his only son George (jnr) married and had a large number of children, at least three of whom emigrated to Australia, and established large Lambert families there.
James Lambert jnr never married. He had a brother (also George) who died aged four years. The Lambert name in this line thus ceased, though the family line continued in the married names of the female descendants - Townsend, Gumbleton, Alfry and Hoey .
The Lewes town's tourist map shows the junction of Chapel Hill and South Street as "Lambert Corner".
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