Henry Lamb (1890-1978)
The intimacy of the closely cropped composition, bestows a real sense of the intimate bond between artist and sitter...
This sensitive portrait of Pansy Pakenham was painted by Henry Lamb in 1927, the year before they married and not long after they first met.
Henry Lamb, born in Australia, had studied medicine briefly in Manchester before leaving to pursue his studies in art. His training under two luminaries of twentieth-century British art, William Orpen and Augustus John, was punctuated with periods spent studying in France. A founder member of the Camden Town Group in 1911, and a close associate with the Bloomsbury Group, Lamb – famed for his dashing good looks and his Victorian tastes in clothing – lived a Bohemian existence. In 1906, he eloped with his first wife, Nina Forrest, whom he dubbed ‘Euphemia’, but, dissatisfied with the marriage, he simultaneously embarked on a forty-year long protracted affair with John’s enigmatic muse, Dorelia.
Lamb met Lady Margaret Pansy Felicia Pakenham in 1927 when she was working for the prominent London architect George Kennedy (see provenance) and one glittering set collided with another. ‘Pansy’, one of the four daughters of Lord Longford, who had been killed at Gallipoli, had, in a remarkably liberal move for the age, set up a flat with Evelyn Gardener, the daughter of Lord Burghclere. The mothers of the young women, who were friends, optimistically hoped that the two would exert a positive influence on each other. They were gravely mistaken. Gardener was frivolous and capricious and had accepted – and then broken – no fewer than nine engagements before her disastrous marriage to the author, Evelyn Waugh, in 1928.
Unlike the disastrous marriage of the two Evelyns, whose annulment Pansy helped secure, the marriage of Henry and Pansy provided a blissful contrast to the artist’s unhappy first marriage. Settling into a vision of domestic contentment in Coombe Bissing, outside Salisbury, Pansy, in 1928, published her first novel The Old Expedient, and three years later in 1931 published her second book August.
Caught in the sunshine of a bright summer’s day, Pansy in this picture seems to look up to the artist whilst on the point of speech. The bright colours and animated brushwork seem to reflect her vivacious personality. Coupled with the intimacy of the closely cropped head-and-shoulders composition, we are left with a real sense of the intimate bond between husband and wife. The impression of Pansy in these years was vividly remembered by Sir John Betjeman, who recalled an earlier poem in the last year of his life, describing how ‘beauty to me came a-pushing a pram/In the shape of sweet Pansy Felicia Lamb’; qualities that are strikingly captured in the present work.