The Lambton Galleries


In October 1954, along with brother Frank and the sculptor Jim Gawn, Len established the Lambton Galleries, an exhibition and studio space on the top floor of a 3-storied building which stood at 244 Lambton Quay, Wellington. At the time, it was the largest commercial gallery in Wellington and immediately attracted the likes of painter Nugent Welch, wood engraver E. Mervyn Taylor, printmaker John Drawbridge and potter Leonard Castle. When possible, a new exhibition was held every three weeks.

The Architectural Centre's Centre Gallery, which had been established the previous year for the promotion of Modernist artists, was in contrast to the more conservative thinking of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts and the National Art Gallery. Len, Frank and Jim were well aware of the dividing lines (modern versus traditional). Len viewed himself to be first and foremost a portraitist, committed to figurative painting, and suffered from the changing climate which favoured less representational art. However, as a gesture of goodwill, the inaugural exhibition at the Lambton Galleries was open to artists of all persuasions and was very well received by the wider artistic community.

With a floor area of roughly 3,000 square feet, the gallery space itself was split into four main parts. The largest room at the rear of the building was initially used as the exhibition space. Two smaller rooms were utilised as studio spaces - the one in the middle as Jim's sculpture room, and the front room facing Lambton Quay as Len’s studio. The reception area was located at the top of the stairs, with a kitchen and small sitting room facing the Quay. The beautiful etched glass mounted on the reception desk was made by Len and is still held by Frank.

Towards the end of 1956 Jim Gawn decided to pull out of the gallery to concentrate more on his sculpture work. To give him more space to work in the galleries were refurbished, giving Jim the former exhibition space at the rear of the building and turning the two front studios into The New Lambton Gallery. Amongst those to exhibit works were Peter McIntyre, Cedric Savage, Marcus King, Sam Cairncross, Ruth Brown, Beatrice Seddon, Stewart McLennan, T.A. McCormack, E. Mervyn Taylor and Nugent Welch. The gallery also hosted touring international shows, including an exhibition of Rembrandt etchings which drew in 18,000 visitors in just two weeks.

In 1959 Len was awarded the Netherlands Government Art Fellowship and held his final New Zealand exhibition at the New Lambton Gallery in September of the same year. When Len departed for Europe the gallery lease was sold, ironically (and not known to Len and Frank) to the Architectural Centre so they could relocate the Centre Gallery.