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Henry Lamb, M.C., R.A. (1883-1960)
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Henry Lamb, M.C., R.A. (1883-1960)

Breton Boy

Henry Lamb, M.C., R.A. (1883-1960)
Breton Boy
signed and dated 'Lamb/1910' (lower left)
oil on panel
14 x 10 in. (35.5 x 25.5 cm.)
Purchased by D. Shaw-Kennedy at the 1949 exhibition, and by descent.
F. Rutter, The Sunday Times, 18 June 1911.
D. MacCarthy, Eye Witness, 6 July 1911.
Exhibition catalogue, Henry Lamb Retrospective Exhibition, London, New Grafton Gallery, 1973, no. 1.
W. Baron, exhibition catalogue, Camden Town Recalled, London, Fine Art Society, 1976, p. 36.
W. Baron, The Camden Town Group, London, 1979, p. 252, illustrated p. 255.
S. Martin and K. Clements, exhibition catalogue, Henry Lamb 1883 - 1960, Manchester, City Art Gallery, 1984, p. 23, illustrated.
K. Clements, Henry Lamb, The Artist and his Friends, Bristol, 1985, pp. 89-90.
W. Baron, Perfect Moderns A History of the Camden Town Group, Aldershot, 2000, p. 148, no. 48.
London, Carfax Gallery, The Camden Town Group, June 1911, no. 21.
Manchester, City Art Gallery, C.A.S. Loan Exhibition, 1911, no. 54 as 'Brittany Peasant Boy'.
London, Leicester Galleries, Artists of Fame & Promise, July 1949, no. 63.
London, New Grafton Gallery, Henry Lamb Retrospective Exhibition, March - April 1973, no. 1.
London, Fine Art Society, Camden Town Recalled, October - November 1976, no. 86.
Manchester, City Art Gallery, Henry Lamb, May - June 1984, no. 15: this exhibition travelled with the Arts Council of Great Britain to Bristol, City Museum and Art Gallery; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; and York City Art Gallery, June - October 1984.
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Lot Essay

Until 1904, Lamb studied medicine, thereafter, he trained as a painter in Augustus John and William Orpen's School in Chelsea until 1907. After a spell in Paris, he visited Brittany first in 1908, then again in 1910 and 1911 where he was influenced by Gauguin and other Post-Impressionist painters who had left a formidable aesthetic influence on the area. Keith Clements, Lamb's biographer, comments on the time the artist spent with the Favennec family, with whom he lived while in Doëlan, a tiny port on the southern coast of Brittany, 'At a glance, so reminiscent of Gauguin are these first Breton pictures that it seems as if the master himself had been beside Henry whilst he was working ... Before abandoning this style [Gauguin-esque], Henry painted two tiny panels that charmingly combine his study of art with his observation of nature: Breton Cowherd (private collection) and Breton Peasant Boy [the present work], despite the conspicuous presence of Gauguin, are on the way to a more personal response to the environment. Gauguin, in 1888, had painted a number of pictures of Breton youths bathing and wrestling among trees; and it is just possible that his Naked Breton Boy of 1889 might have been seen by Henry and inspired him. [...] Here in these delightful pochades, he follows the norms of academic proportion and adjusts to their modest scale by simplifying the figures and reducing the features to a minimum of suggestion. Apart from the subject matter and this degree of simplification, what gives them their strikingly Pont-Aven look is the overall consistency of treatment which [...] makes little distinction between the figure and the ground: the two are dovetailed, perfectly balanced, almost camouflaging each other in a counterpoint of light and shade, aided by the raised, near absent skyline, a device so beloved of the synthetists. The synthetists, however, used colour symbolically, emotively: here Henry uses it more or less naturalistically: the boys' smocks really are a faded blouson bleu, the trees and hillside a variety of greens and browns; and even in the preponderant shade, the heat of the day is felt in the contrast between parched yellow of the sunlit meadow and the bluish, purple shadow. Probably painted, probably en plein air, at Doëlan, in the orchard in front of 'Kersimon', the Favennec family home. Henry wrote, 'The grass in the orchards & meadows is long now & the cows are kept picketted on narrow strips of over-grazed ground at the edges, feeding rather miserably from about 7 to 10 a.m. & then from 5 or 6 till dark. It is after tea when the [Favennec] boys are back from school & from the sea that one has the most chance of sittings' (see K. Clements, op. cit., p. 90).

These two oils also owe a debt to Augustus John's interpretation of the work of the symbolist painter Puvis de Chavannes in his small oil panels executed in the south of France (see lots 52 and 53). Lamb would have seen the work of Puvis de Chavannes and Gauguin when he was in Paris in 1907 and again at the Post-Impressionist exhibition of 1910 in London, organised by Roger Fry, where thirty-seven Gauguins were on view.

It is also interesting to note that the present work dates from soon after he became emotionally involved with the promiscuous and aristocratic Lady Ottoline Morrell, the eccentric patroness of the
English avant-garde who he had met through Dorelia John the
previous summer.

Breton Boy was one of three pictures (all of Breton subjects) which Lamb exhibited at the seminal First Camden Town Group exhibition in June 1911 at the Carfax Gallery in London. Each of the sixteen members of the Camden Town Group were entitled to exhibit four pictures which were to be hung together, although only fifty-five out of a maximum of sixty-four were shown. Boy's Head (private collection) and Man Fishing (whereabouts unknown) and the present work were discussed by the contemporary critic Desmond MacCarthy, 'Mr Lamb shows two Breton boys and an admirable picture of a Breton Fisherman with a long pole, at the base of a cliff. There is something dour in his art; the clayey green of which he is so fond is not itself a pleasing colour, yet his pictures have a charm which lasts (see D. MacCarthy, op. cit.). The smooth paint and firm drawing of Lamb's work prompted Frank Rutter, reviewing the Camden Town exhibition to describe Lamb as a 'modern classicist, just as Gauguin - whom he so discriminately admires - was also a classic' (see S. Martin and K. Clements, loc. cit.).

At the outbreak of the First World War, Lamb reverted to his study of medicine until 1916 and then from 1916 to 1918 he was a surgeon on active service in Palestine and Macedonia where his friend Stanley Spencer was also serving. It was whilst on active service with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in France in 1918 that Lamb was awarded the Military Cross - 'For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when an outpost company were suffering numerous casualities from enemy bombardment. He proceeded to the locality at once and under heavy shelling got all the wounded moved to shelter remaining with the company until the bombardment ceased. During a trying time he showed splendid devotion to duty' (see K. Clements, op. cit., p. 220).

Lamb was also an Official War Artist for both the First and the Second World Wars.

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