Lamb, Charles Vincent (1893–1954), painter, was born 30 August 1893 in Bridge Street, Portadown, Co. Armagh, the eldest of seven children of John Lamb, a painter and decorator, and Mary Theresa Lamb (née Murray). Apprenticed to his father, he attended Portadown Technical School where he was awarded the gold medal as the best apprentice house painter. In 1913 he commenced studies in the evenings at the Belfast School of Art and in 1917 won a scholarship to the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin where he studied for four years and came under the influence of Seán Keating (qv). In 1919 he had four works selected for the RHA, and he continued to exhibit there until his death. In the same year his ‘Country people at prayer’ was presented to the Limerick Municipal Art Gallery and the following year, ‘A Lough Neagh fisherman’, his best known work, was unveiled, along with ‘Dancing at a northern cross-roads’.
In 1921, on the suggestion of the poet Pádraic Ó Conaire (qv), he paid his first visit to Carraroe, Co. Galway, and he returned frequently to the west to paint landscapes and portraits of local characters, depicted in such work as ‘Aran Islands’ (1928), ‘Hearing the news’ (1922) and ‘Taking in the lobster pots’ (1947). Lamb built a house in Carraroe in 1935 and settled there permanently, establishing a summer school of painting, though he had some difficulty learning Irish. He became a key member of the Society of Dublin Painters, founded by Paul Henry (qv) in 1920, a group that became synonymous with the best of avant-garde painting in Ireland until the 1940s. With Paul Henry, William Conor (qv) and Seán Keating he belonged to what one critic called ‘the school of Irish academic realism’ (Arnold, Concise history, 140). These practitioners of the new ‘Free State style’ were hailed with some excitement by contemporaries as the first genuinely Irish school of painters, reflecting the aspirations of the new state, advancing the idea that Irish art had failed to flourish in the past because the attention of the nation had been absorbed by politics to the detriment of culture. However, latter day critics reasonably pointed out that their subject matter tended to be stylised and stereotyped rather than realistic, laying a weighty stress on ‘strong men’ and ‘fair colleens’ wearing picturesque peasant clothes in rural or western seaboard settings.
Lamb was perhaps the most academic of the Dublin Painters Society and held one-man exhibitions almost annually throughout the 1920s and 1930s at St Stephen's Green, Dublin. Undoubtedly, he contributed to the conservative stance of the society during these years but also helped to sustain its popularity with the public. In 1926–7 he toured Brittany, resulting in ‘Breton peasants at prayer’ (1928). He exhibited at New York in 1929, and in 1930 was represented at the Irish exhibition in Brussels, the same year in which he became one of the first 12 academicians of the Ulster Academy of Arts. Elected to full membership of the RHA in 1938, he travelled to Germany in the same year, and on his return began painting more of the northern Irish landscape. In 1948 his ‘Currach race’ (1947) was exhibited at the Olympiad sport in art exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He also exhibited in Chicago, Los Angeles, and at home in the Munster Fine Art Club, as well as being a member of the United Arts Club.
Lamb, who described himself as ‘a countryman who paints when he can find time’ (Snoddy, 250), was regarded by many as having a good feel for the dramatic in nature, intensifying his interpretation through a control of design that was unusual in painters of landscape, and his concern for tranquillity lent an abstract quality to his paintings similar to that of Paul Henry. His best work was completed in the 1920s and 1930s, where people dominated his paintings and he invoked an economic style free from superfluities, with his painting perhaps more diverse but less florid and theatrical in style than that of Seán Keating or Patrick Tuohy (qv). By the early 1940s his work had declined in quality, becoming repetitive and clichéd. Reacting to this deterioration, at the 1945 exhibition of living art, Stephen Rynne (qv) lamented the dominance of pictures from the west, led by Lamb's contribution, and pleaded with the RHA to abandon its fixation with Connemara and find new subject matter.
Lamb died suddenly at his home in Carraroe on 16 December 1954. He was survived by his wife Katherine, daughter of the novelist Ford Madox Ford, and great-granddaughter of the painter Ford Madox Brown.