Hugh Ramsay / Australia 1877–1906 / Portrait of Mrs L Robertson (unfinished) 1905 / Oil on canvas / 183.7 x 102.2cm / Purchased 1953. Subsequent gift of Dr Norman Behan CMG in memory of his mother, Mrs Simon Behan 1954 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Hugh Ramsay
Portrait of Mrs L Robertson (unfinished) 1905

Not Currently on Display

Mrs L Robertson, née Lily Lock, wife of Commander Robertson, was a friend of the Ramsay family. Here she is painted in one of Hugh Ramsay’s last paintings before a highly decorative Japanese screen; it reflects the contemporary influence of John Singer Sargent’s bold and vigorous brushwork. Ramsay’s illness (tuberculosis) was too advanced to permit him finishing it.

Hugh Ramsay migrated with his family from Glasgow to Melbourne in 1878. After being educated at Essendon Grammar School, he joined art classes at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School, Melbourne, under Frederick McCubbin and Bernard Hall. When Ramsay travelled to Paris in 1900, he made the acquaintance of artist George W. Lambert and his wife Amy, with whom he became close friends.

Ramsay studied at the Académie Colarossi, copying the old masters in the Louvre, responding particularly to the composition, lighting and tonal values in the work of Diego Velázquez. Ramsay also greatly admired the work of Édouard Manet and James McNeill Whistler. In Paris, Ramsay shared a studio with fellow Australian James McDonald.

In 1902, four of the five paintings that he submitted were hung by the New Salon. He also exhibited in the British Colonial Art Exhibition and at the Royal Institute Galleries, London. At 25, Ramsay was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and he was forced to return to Australia in 1902. Dame Nellie Melba, his patron, helped to pay his return fare and financed a solo exhibition at her residence in Toorak, Melbourne. Ramsay died in 1906 at the age of 28.

Discussion Questions

1. We can tell a lot about this lady by her stance and clothing. Which notable people in society today do you think would be painted in a similar manner? What props or settings would they be depicted in?

2. Do important people still have their portraits painted today? If not, what has replaced this form of documentation and why?

Classroom Activities

Choose a notable person in Australia that you admire. Take on their role. Use props, makeup, clothing and poses to create this person. Ask a classmate to take a digital photograph of you for display.