This is a great time of the year to visit Canberra and the National Gallery. Despite some ‘gender equality’ grandstanding by the new director, the NGA is putting on some grand shows. The big one is Matisse & Picasso (no gender equality there) but there is also an attractive exhibition of an Australian artist: Hugh Ramsay. The retrospective celebrates this accomplished artist whose portraits achieved remarkable success here and in Paris before his untimely death at only 28.
Hugh Ramsay was born in 1877 into a Glaswegian family which emigrated to Melbourne in 1878. They lived in a substantial house in Essendon nostalgically named Clydebank. Hugh attended Essendon Grammar where he was dux in his final year. Musically gifted, he nevertheless entered the National Gallery schools; his teachers included McCubbin and Longstaff. Determined to study in Europe, he sailed in 1900 meeting George Lambert on board. He frequented the Louvre studying Velasquez and the Old Masters. In 1902 Ramsay won international acclaim when four of five paintings submitted to the New Salon were accepted and grouped together, a singular honour. Invited to London to paint the portrait of Nellie Melba, he was influenced by the works of John Singer Sargent.
Sadly within weeks, a diagnosis of tuberculosis prompted an immediate return to Australia. Melba exhibited his works at her Toorak house. His painting blossomed further in the ‘swagger’ style of Sargent. He died in 1906; a short life, a remarkable legacy.
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