Faculty of ArtsAustralian Institute of Art History

The Legacy of Hugh Ramsay Symposium 

Now available to watch online:
Gerard Vaughan (Director, National Gallery of Australia) - Hugh Ramsay and Philanthropy

Recording courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia - Monday 30 March, 2015
Watch now

Hugh Ramsay's life was short but his impact endures. In celebration of the endowment of a chair in Australian art history at the University of Melbourne in his name, by his great niece Patricia Fullerton, the Australian Institute of Art History together with the National Gallery of Australia present this one day symposium reassessing his legacies.

Monday 30 March, 2015
9.00 am – 5.00 pm
James O Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia

For further information please visit the National Gallery of Australia's web page.      


Hugh Ramsay and Philanthropy - Gerard Vaughan, Director, National Gallery of Australia
There are many examples, in the history of philanthropy to art museums in Australia, of artists' families (and widows in particular) gifting key works. One of the earliest, and most consistent, commitments of this kind concerned the family of Hugh Ramsay, whose tragic death at an early age no doubt encouraged a desire to provide public access to his art.

Succeeding generations of the Ramsay family have made extremely generous gifts of his works, and this process has continued. The paper will examine the history of Ramsay family benefactions to public galleries throughout Australia, especially to the NGV in Melbourne, the NGA in Canberra, and to the Queen Victoria Museum & Gallery in Launceston.

Hugh Ramsay: His Life and Work - Patricia Fullerton
Although Ramsay's career spanned scarcely a decade, he was accomplished, dedicated and mature beyond his years. Throughout his short life he achieved extraordinary success both in Australia and abroad. Except for the cognoscenti in the Australian art world, his name was virtually unknown to the general public until 1943, when Daryl Lindsay staged his first retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria. This was a revelation to a whole generation of young students such as Fred Williams, who were profoundly influenced by his work. It was almost another fifty years before his works were once again displayed at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1992, familiarizing another generation with his talent.

This talk will give an account of my involvement in resurrecting Ramsay's legacy with some of the serendipitous encounters, which facilitated the task.
Starting with Ramsay's family, who played an important role in his life, I will discuss his early student days
at the National Gallery School, where his teacher, Bernard Hall, claimed him as his "most brilliant student", his discovery of Keats' poetry,
his romantic liaison with the young Lischen Muller, his bohemian life-style in Paris, where his exceptional Salon success in 1902, led to a commission to paint Melba in London, his sudden diagnosis with TB and his forced return to Melbourne, where he painted some of his finest portraits under his recent contact with the works of John Singer Sargent.

Joseph Burke and Hugh Ramsay - Jaynie Anderson, University of Melbourne
When Joseph Burke arrived in Australia as the first Herald Chair of Fine Arts in 1946 he set himself the task of understanding the Australian art world, both past and present. This was not an easy task as Australian art history was just beginning to emerge as a subject. All of Burke's generation, who came to Australia from abroad, such as Ursula Hoff, Leonhard Adam and Franz Philip wrote books and articles about Australian artists. Joseph Burke's papers in the archives of the University of Melbourne demonstrate his tireless activities in the Australian contemporary art world, opening exhibitions, bringing distinguished visitors from abroad and inviting artists and architects to lecture to Australian undergraduates. One of the projects Burke set himself was to write a book on Hugh Ramsay, an artist upon whom he placed high value. To this end Lady Ramsay (Hugh Ramsay's sister in law) gave Burke a sketchbook for the University of Melbourne's collection, which documented Ramsay's first trip abroad to Paris. Burke wrote to her on 15 March 1949, to say that: 'Ramsay is, in my opinion, one of the most distinguished of Australian painters and has not yet had the overseas recognition that he deserves.' My paper will explore Burke's fascination with that most sensual of all early twentieth-century Australian artists, Hugh Ramsay. Joseph Burke occupied the Herald Chair of Fine Arts, one of the earliest endowed chairs in the nation. That a chair of Australian art history should be named in honour of Hugh Ramsay, one of his favourite artists would have enthused him greatly.

Two artists in Paris: Ramsay and Lambert 1900-02 - Anna Gray
This paper will discuss how after meeting on board ship in September 1900, Ramsay and Lambert spent time together during the early 1900s. These two years were important for both artists, and Ramsay's influence on Lambert significant. They lived near each other in the Boulevard Saint-Jacques in the Latin Quarter, they studied together at the Colarossi and Delécluze academies, and they visited galleries and exhibitions together. In addition, they looked at the work of other artists such as Velasquez, Puvis de Chavannes, Whistler and Sargent, and learnt from this. At this stage in their careers Ramsay was more advanced than Lambert. However, what Lambert learnt from Ramsay and from the artists they studied remained with him for the rest of his life and resonated in his later paintings. Moreover, when Lambert went to Europe, he turned away from painting nationalist rural subjects and began to paint figure groups and portraits, as did Ramsay. In Europe that was the way an artist could most easily make a living. To develop their skill as portraitists, Lambert began making portraits of his friend and Ramsay painted many self-portraits. Lambert kept two of his portraits of Ramsay as a memento of his friend, and they were still in Lambert's possession when he died.

Melba and Ramsay - Angus Trumble Hugh Ramsay was introduced to Madame Melba by Ambrose Patterson in London in 1902. While ill-health, and an early return to Australia, prevented him from taking up Melba's invitation to paint her portrait, soon afterwards, however, in December of that year, Melba staged an exhibition of his pictures at Myoora, her house in Toorak, and also commissioned Ramsay to paint her father, David Mitchell, and a niece. It was Ramsay's misfortune that he was never able fully to exploit this enormously influential source of pamatronage, for Melba herself was well aware of the extent to which she formed a hub for expatriate Australian artists and musicians seeking to make their name in the imperial capital. She was also unapologetically strategic in aligning their efforts with her own knack for publicity—soon to be thrown behind the fledgling Gramophone Company, who for decades acknowledged Melba's contribution to their success (and not the other way around). The case of Melba and Ramsay, in other words, sheds a penetrating ray of light on the Edwardian cult of celebrity.

Self-reflection: looking within the works of Hugh Ramsay - Michael Varcoe-Cocks, National Gallery of Victoria
This paper will examine a group of works from the National Gallery of Victoria's collection that help record Hugh Ramsay's technical development and his pursuit for an independent style and artistic identity.

As a student at the National Gallery School, Ramsay's early methods were strongly influence by the then Director and Master of the school of painting Bernard Hall. Two works in the NGV's collection, Anxiety (c. 1899) and Conciliation (1899-1901), typify this stylistic influence that was built on a reserved use of colour and dark applications of heavy resinous paint applied to a laboured surface. Consolation (c. 1899) was the rising artist's major Australian composition and although begun in Melbourne was finished in Paris two years later. The canvas traversed not only geographical borders but also the transition to a mature artistic practice.

In Paris Ramsay placed greater importance on self-portraiture of which the NGV has five examples. Although the self-portrait provides a convenient and cheap model, the volume of production and investment in studio materials suggests a deliberate enquiry into the representation of the artist's identity that simultaneously explored form, composition and a freedom of expression offered by immediacy.
The technical achievement of Ramsay's brief career will be illustrated through the materiality of these two groups of works.

Ramsay's paintings at the University of Melbourne - Alex Ellem
"When a fellow gets on a bit, he begins to see things in his own individual way."
- Hugh Ramsay, Letter to Dr. John Ramsay, 11 September, 1898

This paper explores Hugh Ramsay's art practice based on documentary research and technical examination of Ramsay's paintings in the collection of the Late Nell Turnbull, one of Ramsay's nieces, with some reference to his works in the Ian Potter Museum of Art, including painting manuals he owned and annotated that were gifted to the Potter by Patricia Fullerton.

An assiduous student - hungry to learn and keenly observant, Ramsay refined his drawing and painting skills melding the principles he had learned with his own vision. His draughtsmanship built strong foundations for his paintings, executed with an economy of gesture and geometry and a fidelity to tone and colour.

While fellow students were in awe of his 'Fatal Facility', an allusion to his speed at the easel, Ramsay's thoughtful attention to detail is revealed in many aspects of his work. Whether he was re-working a composition, choosing colours or building up layers, Ramsay made his mark through a considered approach within his practice. In addition, being as prolific as he was and with a strained purse, he got as much mileage from his materials as he could – a number of his canvases sport more than one composition. This presentation looks at some of his methods and materials, offering glimpses of his development from early works to what is considered his last self-portrait.

Hugh Ramsay in an Australian Context - Mary Eagle
"Ramsay's continuing challenge to artists is for the grace and honesty of his expression"

Synopsis: Hugh Ramsay has figured in the century since his death principally for a style of decorum. By comparison with the conspicuous Edwardian trends of the florid, the subtle, the swashbuckling and the clever, he was distinctive for an unerring poise and candor of address. Of his generation, Lambert manner was of nervous theatricality, Meldrum's was of dowdiness, and Norman Lindsay's of pneumatic vitalism. These artists did not inspire authoritative emulation beyond the succeeding generation. Ramsay's limpid honesty, however, did continue to challenge the capacity of artists.

The Concierge's daughter: Hugh Ramsay's portrait of Jeanne (1901) - Alison Inglis
Hugh Ramsay's portrait of a young girl titled Jeanne (1901) plays a small but important part in the story of the brilliant young artist whose international career was cut short tragically by tuberculosis. It was one of four paintings that famously were accepted and hung 'on the line' at the New Salon's exhibition of 1902; an extraordinary achievement for a virtually unknown 24-year-old artist from the Antipodes.
Universally acknowledged today as one of Ramsay's masterpieces, Jeanne has been described by Terence Lane as 'exceptional in his oeuvre for the Whistlerian subtlety and beauty of its composition, technique and palette'. This paper will evaluate the various artistic sources (Hall, Whistler, Velazquez and others) that may have influenced the production of this painting – not only focusing on the composition, technique and palette, but also the choice of subject matter. The painting's sitter was Jeanne Garreau, the six-year-old daughter of the concierge at the Ramsay's Montparnasse studio (atelier 20, 51 Boulevard St Jacques). To what degree is the young girl's social background conveyed by the portrayal? The paper will conclude by considering the popularity of working class models for bohemian artists in nineteenth-century Paris, in particular the figure of the concierge and her family.

Conclusion Daniel Thomas

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