Never seen before work by Camden Town painter at Messums gallery in Harrogate

A top Harrogate gallery is shining the spotlight on work by a leading member of the Camden Town Group in its latest online exhibition during lockdown.

Monday, 8th February 2021, 4:06 pm
Updated Monday, 8th February 2021, 4:08 pm
An example of work by leading Camden Town Group artist Henry Lamb now showing online at Messums in Harrogate.

The new show at Messums Yorkshire in Harrogate brings together for the first time a remarkable group of paintings and drawings by Henry Lamb of the Camden Town Group, many of which have never been exhibited before.

The two floor gallery of Contemporary and Twentieth Century Art on James Street in Harrogate which was launched last summer after years of success by Messums in London and Wiltshire where it originally made its name nationally by championing modern British Artists like Sickert and Lamb.

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Born in 1883, Henry Lamb was an Australian-born British painter who studied under William Orpen and Augustus John at the Chelsea School of Art in the Edwardian era.

He is probably most well-known for his portrait of the eminent writer and biographer Lytton Strachey, which is now owned by the Tate Gallery.

The pictures on display online from February 4 to March 13 in the new exhibition called Henry Lamb In Arcadia, come from the Henry Lamb estate, represented by Messums.

They include scenes of rural bliss; skinny-dipping in the rivers, sewing, reading and picking flowers in the bucolic landscape near Salisbury, where Lamb lived.

Coming after the Edwardian period spent living in Paris and London followed by his time working as a doctor in the battlefields of the First World War, these pictures mark a new beginning in Lamb’s career.

They include a painting of Lamb and his wife Pansy, two years after they married standing beneath an apple tree laden with golden fruit, with Lamb leaning on a Grecian urn next to a gently flowing stream leading to rolling chalk downs in the distance.

The couple are seen in a classic English arcadia in poses that mimic Gainsborough’s painting, Mr and Mrs Andrews and perhaps also echoes Keats’ poem Ode to a Grecian Urn that refers to the kind of vessel that Lamb is seen leaning on, as a ‘bride of quietness.’

Another striking painting in the show is of a group of nude women bathing in a river; a subject beloved of many artists including Cézanne and Puvis de Chavannes and which documents the wartime zeal for bracing swims in freezing water that seems to be enjoying a comeback in our own straitened times.

A separate component of the exhibition is devoted to portrait drawings that Lamb did in Brittany and Ireland before the First War that demonstrate his fluency of line and his acute insight into the personality of his sitters.

Drawn in pencil these early pictures demonstrate Lamb’s utterly confident sense of line and proportion.

There is also a selection of sketches done on the front line including those for his celebrated painting Advance Dressing Station on the Struma, 1916 in the collection of Manchester City Art Gallery.

Also of note is a superb sketch for a painting eventually bought by the composer Benjamin Britten, that shows Lamb illegally drinking alcohol out of tin cup with his comrades in a bivouac.

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