The man behind the famous paintings

Leyland Motors Ladies paintings are on show at the British Commercial Vehicle Museum
Leyland Motors Ladies paintings are on show at the British Commercial Vehicle Museum
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Paintings hanging in a Leyland museum featuring the motoring industry’s female workers were the work of a ventriloquist’s son.

Flashback has been given an insight into the background of the artist behind most of the town’s ‘Leyland - She’s a Lady’ paintings.

Walter Lambert was the original artist for the Leyland Motors calendars, which started in the early 1930s and were famous around the world.

He chose a different female worker each year as the face of the company, and a selection of portraits is now on display at the British Commercial Vehicle Museum on King Street.

Walter also captured the fashions of that era, and continued his work until the late 1960s, when a different artist was commissioned.

Now, Walter’s daughter-in-law has contacted the Guardian with some details about the artist and his family.

Monika Lambert, who is married to Walter’s son, Roger, said: “Walter lived from 1897 until 1986.

“He was born in London and his father was Walter Hibbert Lambert.

“His father’s stage name was Lydia Dreams, and he was a female impersonator and ventriloquist in the Victorian Music Hall, and he was also a painter.

“His most famous painting was an enormous canvas from 1903 portraying all the Music Hall Artistes of the time.

“It is called ‘Popularity’ and is kept in the London Museum.

“He died in 1944.”

She added: “My father-in-law went to Camberwell Art School, where he met his wife Hilda, and became a commercial artist.

“They had four children.

“When he was married he lived in Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire, and he did many advertising posters for well known products, like Oxo, Lux, and Ovaltine.

“From the fifties onwards, when photography was used for advertising, he concentrated more on magazine covers, showcards and portraits, and we also remember very well the time when he painted the Leyland Ladies for the yearly calendar.

“He was brilliant in making the ladies look glamorous.”

Trustee at the British Commercial Vehicle Museum, Stephen Bullock, said: “Leyland Ladies were very famous during Leyland Motors’ heyday.

“The company started doing them because they wanted to get the Leyland name known worldwide, so they started making calendars for offices and workshops.

“It was a good way of getting the attention of the male workers, by putting a pretty face to the Leyland Motors name, but the portraits were also very tasteful.”

He said that Walter used the same model as previous years on more than one occasion.

“You have to look very hard to tell which ones are repeated,” he said. “Walter did well to disguise them with the fashions.”

The volunteers at the museum are now working on putting a special calendar together for 2013, featuring 12 of the portraits they have at the museum.

They haven’t been able to track down all of the portraits though, and would love to hear from anyone who knows about the missing years (they are 1931, 1933, 1937, 1949, 1957, 1958 and 1963.)

Monika said she and Roger are thrilled that their relative’s work is still appreciated in the town.

“How nice, that there are always keen volunteers who are enthusiastic about social history,” she said.

- If you have any information about the missing portraits or about the ladies featured, please contact the museum on 01772 451011, or call Kay Taylor at the Guardian on 01257 264911.