In Arcadia at Messums

AN online exhibition by Messums Wiltshire, based at the historic tithe barn at Tisbury, features paintings, many of them never previously exhibited, by the English artist, Henry Lamb, who lived at Coombe Bissett near Salisbury for many years.

In Arcadia, which continues to 13th March, focuses on paintings of the English countryside between the wars, including peaceful rural and domestic scenes, skinny-dipping in the rivers, sewing, reading and picking flowers.

The collection, which also includes paintings and sketches from the Edwardian period, and the First World War, comes from the Henry Lamb estate, represented by Messums.

It includes a painting of Lamb and his second wife Pansy Pakenham, 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. It is a classic English arcadian scene which recalls Gainsborough’s famous painting, Mr and Mrs Andrews.

Another striking picture shows a group of nude women bathing in a river, a favourite subject of many artists including Cézanne. It reflects the enthusiasm of the period for bracing swims in cold water (currently enjoying a resurgence of popularity in lockdown).

Portraits in the show feature Lamb’s family and friends, including a touching study of his elder daughter, Henrietta, wearing a white dress and holding a rose.

Lamb (1883-1960) lived in Paris and London before the First World War. Portrait drawings that he made in Brittany and Ireland before the First War demonstrate his fluency of line and his acute insight into the personality of his sitters.

During the war he was a doctor and the exhibition includes sketches from the front line. Among them are drawings for his celebrated painting Advance Dressing Station on the Struma, 1916, and a superb sketch for a painting eventually bought by the composer Benjamin Britten, that shows Lamb drinking alcohol out of a tin cup with his comrades in a bivouac.

Henry Lamb, who was born in Australia, is best known for his portrait of the writer and biographer Lytton Strachey, which now belongs to the Tate Gallery. He was the son of a mathematician, Horace Lamb, and was brought up in Manchester where he read medicine at the Medical School of Owen’s College.

After abandoning his degree, he moved to London where he studied painting under William Orpen and Augustus John at the Chelsea School of Art. His early work was influenced by Gauguin and he exhibited in the second post-Impressionist show at the Grafton Galleries, London in 1913, along with Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.

He was a founding member of both the Camden Town and London Groups. The outbreak of the First World War prompted him to resume his medical studies and he became a Battalion Medical Officer with the Fifth Inniskilling Fusiliers, before being invalided home.

In August 1928 he married the novelist Lady Pansy Pakenham and the couple moved to Coombe Bissett. Shortly before the Second World War, he was commissioned to paint a portrait of the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and subsequently became an official war artist.

The exhibition continues online until 13th March.