Take a virtual tour through Hugh Ramsay.
Hugh Ramsay (1877–1906) was an accomplished Australian artist whose portrait paintings achieved success here and in France before his untimely death at the age of 28. This retrospective, the first to focus on Ramsay in more than a quarter of a century, brings together paintings, drawings, sketchbooks and letters from collections around the country to celebrate his achievements.
Born in Glasgow, Ramsay emigrated to Australia with his family as a young child. Displaying an uncommon passion for the visual arts early on, he entered the National Gallery School in Melbourne at 16, where he was nicknamed ‘Young Hughie’ by his fellow students. There, he developed his drawing and painting skills under the guidance of, among others, artist and teacher Bernard Hall, who tutored him on the importance of tone through careful study of the 17th-century Spanish master Diego Velázquez. The exhibition includes key paintings and drawings from this time, some of which remained on display at the Gallery School and have inspired successive generations of artists.
Travelling abroad was one of the greatest aspirations for artists of the era, and Ramsay worked from a studio in Montparnasse, Paris for much of 1901–02. He painted some of his best canvases in the French capital. His painting A student of the Latin Quarter, 1901, epitomises the fulfilment of a bohemian ideal, while his subtle and perceptive self-portraits from this period reveal diverse facets of self. A portrait of his concierge’s daughter, Jeanne, 1901, was one of four works selected for the New Salon in Paris in 1902, an exceptional feat for a young Australian artist. Upon his return to Australia, he painted Miss Nellie Patterson, 1903, a portrait of Dame Nellie Melba’s niece that was commissioned by the opera singer, who championed and supported the young artist.
Ramsay was close to his family and featured many of them in his work, the most notable portraits being those of his sisters, Jessie, Margaret (known as Madge) and Nell. After returning to Australia he undertook what is considered his most accomplished painting, Two girls in white (or The sisters), 1904. Other paintings in the exhibition, such as The four seasons, c.1902, and Madge, 1902, have not been shown in a retrospective context before. A selection of the artist’s letters to family members and his sketchbooks are also included, providing visitors access to Ramsay’s private thoughts and working processes.