Australia’s experience of the First World War contributed significantly to the development of the young nation’s identity, particularly in terms of the way the ‘typical’ Australian came to be defined. As an official war artist, George Lambert aimed to create ‘a true record of the sacrifice which so many Australian soldiers made, often unseen, unheard, untended’. Even before it was hung on the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria in 1921, the painting A sergeant of the Light Horse was praised by critic Alexander Colquhoun as ‘ the most original and descriptive presentment of a Digger which we have yet seen here’.
Lambert met the model for this work, Harry Ivers, in Damascus in 1919, and the artist subsequently employed him as an assistant in London until February 1920. The sitter was a sergeant with the 1st Signal Squadron, employed as a map-maker for the War Records Section in Palestine. Ivers certainly fulfilled the official image of the Australian Light Horsemen – physically lean and humble, yet proud and capable – that has become part of the enduring mythology of the First World War.
Original, by Patrickson, London, surface not original
The basic form of this frame is most likely a wooden profile, available through trade catalogues as a base ready to take runs of composition ornament. What is notable is the choice of the form and finish to frame this portrait of the definitive Australian soldier. The simplicity of the form and the minimal treatment of the surface fit well with notions of the understated hero.
1 The treatment was carried out by Lisette Burgess in the studio of Frames and Furniture Conservation at the NGV.
Patrickson Chelsea S.W.3 London
The frame moulding is machined from a single piece of timber, mitred, nailed and re-enforced with splines at the corners. The surface is uniform matte oil gilding, with false gold leaf.
The splines have been broken and the corners re-glued. There are scattered abrasions and dents to the surface. The frame was cleaned and restored in 2000.1