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Edith Sitwell

Photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London

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Edith Sitwell

by Maurice Lambert
aluminium head, 1985, based on a work of circa 1926-1927
19 1/8 in. x 6 7/8 in. (485 mm x 175 mm) overall
Purchased, 1985
Primary Collection
NPG 5801

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Maurice Lambert (1901-1964), Sculptor. Artist of 5 portraits, Sitter in 28 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The head of Edith was commissioned by Osbert Sitwell from the sculptor, brother of the composer Constant Lambert. Explore this portrait from all angles.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Audio Guide
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  • Clerk, Honor, The Sitwells, 1994 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 14 October - 22 January 1995), p. 86 Read entry

    Maurice Lambert (1901-1964) was probably drawn briefly into the Sitwell orbit through his brother, Constant Lambert. Osbert may well have seen Maurice's head of William Walton in the exhibition of works by young artists at the Goupil Gallery in 1925 and decided to commission the portrait of Edith in the rather advanced medium of aluminium. The apparently unique original cast remains with the family. This version is one of two further casts made from it in 1984; a third was made in 1994.

    Lambert included the head of Edith in his first one-man exhibition at the Claridge Galleries in June 1927. Both the exhibition and the head attracted considerable attention and for a short time Lambert was considered to be one of the most promising of the up-and-coming sculptors. He had been apprenticed to the neo-classical sculptor Derwent Wood, from c.1919 to 1924, but obvious sources for the head of Edith must be Vorticist works like Wyndham Lewis's painting and drawings of her and Frank Dobson's head of Osbert. The Times admired the head but felt that Lambert was more of 'a talented craftsman in metal than a creative sculptor'.

  • Ingamells, John, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, 2004, p. 3
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 567
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 201 Read entry

    This portrait head of Edith Sitwell was made three years after she had given a public reading of her poem ‘Façade’ (1922) at the Aeolian Hall, London, in June 1923. That event provoked controversy, but secured her reputation as Britain’s leading modernist poet. Speculation about the work’s literary merits arose in part from Sitwell’s unconventional style of delivery. Sitting with her back to a bewildered audience, she intoned the poem’s rhythmical lines through a Sengerphone. This instrument – a kind of megaphone made of papier-mâché, which fitted over the mouth and nose – preserved and accentuated the speaker’s nasal tonalities. Some perceived this eccentricity as the hallmark of charlatanism. Others were beguiled by Sitwell’s imagery, word play, and the music she conjured from the sounds she uttered. Indeed, ‘Façade’ was set to music by the composer William Walton.

    This work was commissioned by Edith’s brother Osbert, who approached Maurice Lambert (1901–64), brother of the composer Constant Lambert, after seeing his portrait head of Walton, exhibited in London in 1925. The unconventional choice of aluminium for the original cast (of which this is a later example) seems an appropriate response to ‘Façade’, an emphasis on surface being common to both.

Subject/Themeback to top

Events of 1926back to top

Current affairs

In response to wage cuts and increased working hours for coal miners recommended by the Samuel Commission, the Trade Union Council calls a General Strike of workers in the key industries. Although over 1.5 million workers took part, the TUC finally gave in after nine days and called off the strike. The Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act of 1927 made it harder for workers to strike.

Art and science

A.A. Milne publishes Winnie-the-Pooh. The series of popular children's books featured the character Christopher Robin (named after Milne's son) and a cast of animals based on his stuffed-toys including Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Tigger, Kanga and Roo.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is published. This was Agatha Christie's third 'whodunit' novel featuring Hercule Poirot, the Belgian Detective.


The League of Nations accepts Germany as the sixth permanent member on the council deeming it a 'peace-loving country'. This confidence, however, was short lived with Germany leaving the League with the accession of Adolf Hitler to power in 1933.

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