This painting has become an iconic Australian image. Depicting a young Light Horseman against a sun-bleached landscape, the wirily built, fair-haired soldier appears reserved and unpretentious, modest yet capable. Lambert’s painting both reflected and helped to shape the evolving mythology around the Anzacs as was described in the 1930s by HS Gullett:
So far as a distinctive type has been evolved it is … young men long of limb and feature, spare of flesh, easy and almost tired in bearing … the Light Horseman for all his unconventional ways … was at least distinguished by shyness and reserve. The young countryman leads a simple and peaceful life. He bears himself modestly … A felt slouch hat, a shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbows, long trousers. (H.S. Gullett, The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine : 1914-1918, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1936 (3rd edition), p.34-6)
George Lambert was one of the most prominent Australian expatriate artists living in London when he was appointed as an official war artist with the honorary rank of lieutenant in December 1917. He travelled to Egypt, Turkey and Palestine and completed over 130 works. In January 1919, as honorary captain, he visited Gallipoli with CEW Bean on the Australian Historical Mission in order to collect information to complete a major painting of the Gallipoli landing.
This work was painted in Lambert’s London studio while Lambert was working on his major commissions for the Australian War Memorial. The sitter of this work is thought to have been Sergeant TH Ivers of the 1st Light Horse Signal Squadron. Ivers worked as a map maker for the War Records Section in Palestine where he met George Lambert in 1919. From September 1919 to February 1920 Ivers assisted Lambert with his large-scale paintings for the Memorial.
Text © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia