Hugh Ramsay was born in Glasgow, but grew up in a large, loving and comparatively wealthy household in Melbourne.
He was Dux of Essendon Grammar and could have followed his father into commerce, but decided to follow his passion and joined the National Gallery School. His artistic ability was recognised by all and guided by Hall and McCubbin he developed an individual style.
Velasquez was the artist he most admired and he consciously adopted the tonal approach to painting of the great Spanish painter.
Ramsay left the art school and set up a studio in Melbourne. Here he met Lischen Muller, who would become his fiancée and the model for many of his works.
Ramsay had won many awards for his paintings, but he narrowly missed out on travelling scholarships, and his aim was to study overseas.
The sale of his works at an exhibition allowed him to sail to London in late 1900.
Madge 1896 Melbourne oil on canvas 81x65cm. National Gallery of Victoria.
A portrait of Ramsay’s sister aged 13. As a contrast, see Madge painted in 1902.
Nude study – boy sitting on box 1897 oil on canvas 91x61cm Melbourne private collection.
One of many gallery school nude studies.
Nude study 1897 Melbourne oil on canvas 81x101cm. Victorian College of the Arts.
We can see the assured brushstrokes in the close-up, even this early in his career.
Jessie was Ramsay’s younger sister. Ramsay was 20 when he painted this. Jessie was to nurse him in his last years, contracted TB from him and died aged 22.
Inspired by the John Keats’ poem “Hyperion.” Lischen Muller, later Ramsay’s fiancée, was the model. The painter George Bell posed as the old man. Ramsay reworked the painting and travelled to Paris with the unfinished canvas.