George Lambert was born in 1873 in St Petersburg, Russia, arriving in Australia with his mother in 1887. Lambert studied with Julian Ashton at Academie Julian in Sydney from 1896-1900, then at Colarossi's and Atelier Delecluse in Paris from 1900-01. After a year living in Paris, he moved to London where he exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1904 until 1911, with considerable success. However, it was as a portrait painter that he gained his greatest reputation.
In 1917, he was approached by both the Canadian and Australian governments to work as an official war artist. The Canadian war art scheme wanted him to work on a large battle painting, while the Australian High Commission in London wanted him to go to Palestine. After some deliberation, he decided to accept the Australian offer. He was officially appointed in late 1917. Attached as a lieutenant to the AIF, who were then fighting the Turks, he left London on 25 December to travel to the Middle East. During the train crossing through France and Italy, Lambert made sketches of the passing landscape through the window. These were the first of seventy-six drawings produced during 1918. Many of these 1918 drawings are portraits of the officers and men who were based in Egypt and Palestine.
Lambert was reappointed in 1919 to travel to Gallipoli and the Middle East to record the places where the battles were enacted, and to make preparatory drawings for the planned large commissioned paintings.
Lambert produced over 500 works (paintings and drawings) for the Memorial during two official appointments and with post-war commissions. One of the commissioned works, Anzac, the landing 1915 (ART02873) is the largest and one of the most important paintings in the Memorial's art collection. Often reproduced, it has been continuously on display since the Memorial first opened in the Exhibition Building in Melbourne in 1922.
Lambert was commissioned to paint Anzac, the landing 1915 by the Australian High Commission in London in 1919. He was required to record in this painting the events at Gallipoli on the morning of 25 April 1915. He travelled to Gallipoli with C.E.W. Bean and the Historical Mission early in 1919 to paint oil sketches of the site. He returned to London, where he made a cartoon based on pencil studies for the figures, using models dressed in uniforms and posed in the position of climbing a steep cliff. The cartoon drawing was transferred onto the large canvas and the canvas shipped to Australia in 1921, where Lambert completed the painting over the following year.
In marked contrast to the large-scale, carefully composed and detailed battle paintings taking at least two years to paint, Lambert produced an impressive group of small gem-like oil sketches on wood panels. These exquisite little works, rapidly executed on the spot and some painted on cigar box lids, are the antithesis of his battle paintings. They are spontaneous, intimate oil studies, with bright blues and reds amidst the browns and greens of the landscape. Most were painted in the Middle East, although a few were made at Gallipoli in 1919. Together with the battle paintings and the large holdings of drawings in the collection, Lambert's small oil sketches comprise a memorable visual interpretation of places and events experienced by Australians at war.