In his images of women and children Lambert presented a male gaze on the world of women and children. In Portrait group , more than in any other of his family portrait groups, Lambert showed the mother as voluptuous, clad in a wide-brimmed feathered hat and a voluminous dress that reveals her naked shoulders. Indeed, it is perhaps the most sensual image of his wife, Amy, that Lambert painted.
On another level, Lambert conveyed sibling rivalry, the elder child wearing riding clothes and sitting on a pony, ousted from the mother’s focus by the nude younger child. He also suggested male power (the elder child representing the father) removed from and yet looking over the mother.
As with his other portrait groups Lambert placed his figures in an imaginary romantic landscape rather than a naturalistic open air setting, and used Amy and his children, Maurice and Constant, as his models. He sought to create a decorative effect, to achieve a balance between the realism of his depiction of the figures and the stylised design of the landscape and the placement of the group within it. He deliberately placed dark shapes against light and sought to arrange the back of the boy on the horse so that the curve of his back followed the arch of his mother’s. To some extent, his careful posing of the figures, and their stilled gaze, gives them a sense of artificiality – as does the elaborate costume which the mother wears.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010