Lot 9
  • 9

Henry Lamb

25,000 - 35,000 GBP
100,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Henry Lamb
  • Study for Portrait of Lytton Strachey
  • signed and dated 1913
  • charcoal


Private Collection, Oxford
Sale, Christie's London, 11th March 1994, lot 109, where acquired by David Bowie

Catalogue Note

Luminaries from law to literature came together in the London drawing room of two young sisters, Vanessa and Virginia Stephen, in the early years of the 20th century. Hence known as the Bloomsbury group, a nod to the leafy Georgian Squares of central London where they lived, their erstwhile friends were famous as much for their ground-breaking ideas as for their liberal approach to relationships. Giles Lytton Strachey (1880-1932), biographer and writer, was a core member of the so-called Bloomsbury set – he had been at Cambridge with Thoby Stephen, Vanessa and Virginia’s brother, together with the economist John Maynard Keynes, the art critic Clive Bell, who later married Vanessa, and the publisher and civil servant Leonard Woolf, who married Virginia.

Henry Lamb was introduced to the group by his older brother Walter. Strachey rather fell in love with him, first sitting for a portrait in 1908. Lamb wrote to him: ‘I should very much like to make a more adequate presentation of you than that sketch.. your posing is exemplary’ (the Artist, quoted in Henry Lamb (exh. cat.), Manchester City Art Gallery, 1984, p.38). By the time the present work was drawn in 1913, Lamb had brought Strachey to meet the great bohemian artist of the period Augustus John who had inspired him to wear an earring and grow his hair and beard longer. Strachey wrote to his mother on 9th May 1911: ‘The chief news is that I have grown a beard! Its colour is very much admired, and it is generally considered extremely effective, though some ill-bred persons have been observed to laugh. It is a red-brown of the most approved tint, and makes me look like a French decadent poet - or something equally distinguished…’ (the Artist, quoted in Paul Levy (ed.), The Letters of Lytton Strachey, Viking, London, 2005).

Bowie’s drawing captures Strachey at his most pensive, with a bravura handling of charcoal sculpting Strachey’s features on paper. The compositional arrangement is clearly related to Lamb’s larger painting of Strachey (1913-1914, Tate, London) undoubtedly his greatest portrait but whereas the oil version feels somewhat static and frozen in time (indeed Roger Fry called it ‘that horrid vulgar picture by Henry’ (Fry, quoted in The Art of Bloomsbury (exh. cat.), Tate, London, 1999, p.113)), Lamb’s command and facility with charcoal enlivens Strachey’s features and it is hard to believe that it was executed more than 100 years ago.