In 1963 Lynton Lamb responded to Ruth Borchard’s request to acquire a self-portrait:
‘What a delightful idea! … I have a 12” x 10” canvas that I am rather fond of done in 1938 that you might find recognisably in the Euston Road manner since I was then closely associated with Pasmore, Graham Bell and Claude Rogers. It is a bit dusty after all these years; but I can clean it up and send it to you to see if you like it.’ He later wrote to Ruth that ‘dusting it down, varnishing and battening it after all these years has been quite an experience: and as you say the beginning of later developments is to be found in it’.
Lynton Lamb was born in Hyderabad in India, the son of a Methodist minister. From 1928-30, he studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London; Victor Pasmore was a fellow student and close friend. From October 1937 to the summer of 1939, a ‘School of Drawing and Painting’, whose founding members were Claude Rogers, Pasmore and William Coldstream, operated first at 12 Fitzroy Street, London W1, and from February 1938 at 314/6 Euston Road. This was soon designated the ‘Euston Road School’.
Lamb’s 1938 self-portrait is a quintessentially Euston Road School work of art, and quite close in technique, tone and feeling to William Coldstream’s pictures which were rooted in his own working method of plotting horizontal and vertical co-ordinates on the canvas. Lamb’s self-portrait is based predominantly on masses of thin, vertical brushstrokes accumulated so as to correspond with the physical responses of upper body and head, set against a freely scumbled, drab olive background. Lamb’s lips and cheeks seem highly coloured in contrast to the somewhat murky colours of the rest of the painting; this high colour seems less the flush of good health than of nervous sensitivity. His quivering gaze seems at once aloof and introspective, diffident in the perhaps stereotypically reserved English manner of the day.
Though Lamb is remembered today mainly for his work as a book illustrator– by the time of his death in 1977 about forty books illustrated by Lamb had been published – he always insisted that his illustrative skills were firmly underpinned by his gifts as a painter.