Lambert's prolific output of semi-abstracted sculpture of the late 1920s and 1930s reflects the influence of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth within progressive artistic circles between the wars. Like him, they were both members of the Seven and Five Society in the early 1930s. In his work of this period such as The golden pheasant 1932, Lambert has achieved an elegance through the simplified form that appears indebted in part to the work of Constantin Brancusi. After the Second World War Lambert returned to more conventional portraits and subjects, which he exhibited almost annually at the Royal Academy until his death in 1964.
Kronos c.1964 is one of Lambert's last works, begun in the mid-1950s while he was master of sculpture at the Royal Academy Schools and finished near the time of his death with the help of his assistant Geoff Colley. In Greek mythology, Kronos was the leader of the Titans, overthrown by his son Zeus and the Olympian gods. Nicolson has observed how Lambert's Kronos 'presents the Hellenic ideal of male beauty: a classical profile and youthful, athletic body' and appears quite incapable of the barbaric deeds that he is credited with. She concentrates on the symbolism in the work, such as the sphere signifying the universe and the skull under the hoof of the winged horse, a well-known image of death, with its poignancy for Lambert - he was terminally ill with cancer at the time of completing the work.
The title by which this work is currently known, Kronos (Greek Κρονος) derives principally from correspondence between the artist's widow and third parties at the time the work was promised, then bequeathed, to the National Gallery of Australia. The apparent divergence between the mythological Kronos and the wealth of symbolism embedded in this work, identified by Nicolson, suggests that rather than being a personification of the Titan Kronos, the work may have been erroneously titled after the sculptor's death. It is perhaps more correctly titled Khronos (Greek Χρονος) which means time.
An alternative interpretation, therefore, is that the sculpture depicts the mythological winged horse Pegasus with the Greek hero Bellerophon. It was Bellerophon who tamed Pegasus, slayed the tripled-bodied beast, the Chimaera, then achieved victory over the Solymians and their allies, the Amazons. Later he provoked the wrath of the gods and was thrown off by Pegasus while trying to ride to Olympus. He ended his days a wandering outcast. Lambert is known to have exhibited a number of works at the Royal Academy depicting Greek mythological subjects, including two variants of a sculpture entitled Pegasus and Bellerophon in 1948 and 1951 respectively; for this work Lambert received a silver medal from the Royal Society of British Sculptors. Although not directly related to the National Gallery's bronze, it is an indication of the sculptor's interest in the subject.
In Khronos the sculptor appears to use Bellerophon as a metaphor for his own life. Bellerophon is portrayed as an idealised and heroic youth, confidently astride his steed after vanquishing his enemies, a laurel wreath of victory hanging from his wrist. He carries a newborn baby in a sling from his left hand as Pegasus treads upon a snake coiled around a human skull. As the alternative title Khronos indicates, the sculpture seems to be principally concerned with the passing of time, the cycle of life, of birth, worldly success and death. A number of secondary motifs are melded into the general composition of the sculpture to support this interpretation. Bellerophon's cloak is decorated on the outside with a blazing sun and underneath is adorned with stars, tokens of day and night. The cloth on which Bellerophon is seated has three signs from the zodiac - a ram, a lion, and a crab. The last perhaps refers to the sculptor's own birth sign, perhaps to his disease. As Nicolson has observed, in his last works Lambert appears to be reflecting on his own life, his achievements and his regrets, facing his own mortality.
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
- Vanessa Nicolson, The Sculpture of Maurice Lambert, London: Lund Humphries and The Henry Moore Foundation, forthcoming 2002, p.95. I wish to thank the author for her generosity in providing me material before publication.
- ibid, p.95
- see artist's file NGA 69/0523, ff7-29, National Gallery of Australia
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010