Catalogue entry

George Lambert 1700-1765

T04110 Moorland Landscape with Rainstorm 1751

Oil on canvas 303 x 423 (12 x 16 5/8)
Inscribed 'G:L: | 1751' br.
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1985
Prov: ...; ? the artist's sale, Langford's 18 Dec. 1765 (3, one of 'six small landscapes'); ...; English private collector, from whom bt by Tate Gallery
Exh: Manners and Morals: Hogarth and British Painting 1700-1760, Tate Gallery, Oct. 1987-Jan. 1988 (182, repr. in col.)

Lambert's known topographical work is confined to areas around London, Dover, the West Country, and the North between Yorkshire and Durham. Topographically this sketch, which is unusually fresh and direct for its date, seems to belong to the latter group. Set-piece views of Durham, Richmond, Rievaulx and Kirkstall by the artist are dated between 1734 and 1753, although this in itself gives little indication of when precisely he visited these areas, as he was in the habit of repeating the same composition throughout his working life: for instance, the oil version of 'The Great Falls of the Tees, Co. Durham' which he exhibited at the SA in 1762 (Tate Gallery 1987-8, no.184, repr. in col.) is based on a pastel of the same view dated 1746 (George Lambert, exh. cat., Kenwood 1970, no.20).

Unlike any other works known by him (even the Tate's 'View of Box Hill', N05981, has a famous landmark for its subject) this seems to be an exercise in landscape painting for its own sake, aiming to catch the fleeting effects of sunlight and weather on a bleak moorland landscape with a few farm buildings, stone walls and sheep. The location could be in the North of England and, interestingly enough, unusually severe rain-, snow-, and thunder-storms were recorded in the North, particularly in Yorkshire, in 1751 (e.g. Gentleman's Magazine, May 1751, pp.231, 233, 235).

In spite of being very lightly and thinly painted (the pinkish-beige ground is clearly visible) T04110 is unlikely to be an on-the-spot sketch. Lambert's method was to make careful pencil drawings of a given topography, and then to work them up in oils in the studio, adding an artificial foreground and decorative 'wings' of rocks and trees to frame the view. This is probably the case here, with the dark outcrop on the right dramatised by a bent sapling that, together with the streaks of rain and the windswept country couple and their dog that animate the foreground, help to create the breezy atmosphere of the painting. In its attempt to capture in oils the feel and immediacy of an open English landscape and its weather, this points the way towards the plein-air sketches of Thomas Jones (who may have been Lambert's pupil) later in the century, and predates Canaletto's 'Old Walton Bridge with a Rain-squall' of 1754 (Dulwich Picture Gallery) and Stubbs's remarkable oil studies of the rubbing-down house on Newmarket Heath of c.1765 (Paul Mellon Collection, and Tate Gallery T02388).

The history of this landscape before its recent appearance is unknown, but Lambert's sale on 18 December 1765 included, as lot 3, 'six small landscapes' by him, which may be connected with the numeral '5' inscribed in pencil in an old hand on the back of the stretcher.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.72-3