.

  • Written by Joanna Mendelssohn, Principal Fellow (Hon), Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. Editor in Chief, Design and Art of Australia Online, University of Melbourne
Two girls in white (1904) is a composite study of three of Ramsay's sisters, who cared for him before his death from tuberculosis. Art Gallery of New South Wales

Review: Hugh Ramsay, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Hugh Ramsay’s Two girls in white, known for many years as The sisters, is one of my first memories of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

I was intrigued by these women wearing fancy clothes, who were interesting rather than pretty.

Later I came to appreciate how Ramsay used obvious strokes of paint to imply texture, as well as the many different colours that were white. When I studied art history, I realised the painting was in part an homage to the virtuoso treatment of fabric by John Singer Sargent and the tonality of James McNeil Whistler.

However, the faces don’t fit the model of fashionable Edwardian portraiture. There is no flattery here. Their strong, raw features imply honesty and strength of character. Who were they, and why were they staring so intently?

The answer lies in the date, 1904, two years before Ramsay died of tuberculosis at the age of 28.

Two girls in white is a composite study of three of Ramsay’s sisters, looking at the brother who has been told that the decision to paint them will shorten his life. And those red flushed cheeks on one of the two? The figure on the right is a combination of the elegant Madge and Jessie, who nursed the acutely ill Ramsay when he returned from Paris. Jessie died four years later from the same illness. Rosy cheeks are one symptom of the disease.

The Ramsay exhibition is a visual record of the pathways leading to this work.

It opens with the rigorous but dull teachings ofBernard Hall at Melbourne’s National Gallery School. Ramsay excelled in painting the precise backs of nudes so valued by his teacher, but he recognised the limitations of Hall’s pedagogy.

Instead, he sought the company of artists recently returned from Paris, befriending the older John Longstaff, who would become a lifelong mentor.

Self-portrait in white jacket (1901-1902). National Gallery of Victoria

Ramsay’s father, who had brought the family from Scotland when the artist was a baby, objected to his career choice. He had some financial help from an older brother but the young artist raised most of his own money to travel to Paris. The cold and malnutrition he experienced as a result of poverty was one of the triggers for his final illness.

With the exception of some commissions, most of Ramsay’s subjects were his sisters, his friends, and himself. One advantage of such a limited repertoire is that it is easier to track how his art developed in Paris.

There is a liberation of paint, but a continuance of the muted palette first seen in Melbourne. He ventured into fashionable decorative symbolism, but for the most part he placed himself in the academic tradition of Velázquez, with a nod to Whistler and sometimes Sargent with his virtuoso frills and furbelows.

At NGA, a series of self-portraits dominates one wall, each giving subtly different approaches to tone, using his body as an element in the overall composition.

Interior of artist’s studio (1901) National Gallery of Victoria

There is no figure in Interior of an artist’s studio, but this exquisite small study, balancing forms and shapes in tonal harmony, gives an idea of one direction his art may have taken if illness had not intervened.

Then there is the deliberately angular Jeanne, a Whistler inspired portrait of his concierge’s daughter. The muted tones of the thinly applied paint are lifted by the red bow in the little girl’s hair.

Australians in Paris looked out for each other. Ramsay’s friends included George and Amy Lambert, Ambrose Patterson and J. S. MacDonald.

The grandest of patrons was Patterson’s relative by marriage, Nellie Melba. The exhibition includes a small study for the grand portrait that Ramsay planned to paint of her. He travelled to London for the commission but just as his talents were being noticed, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Melba lent him money to return to Australia, where she hosted a solo exhibition at her house in Toorak. She continued her support him with commissions to paint a portrait of her ailing father and her niece, Nellie Patterson.

It seems Ramsay was determined to leave a legacy that would endure. After he was told painting would exacerbate his illness, Ramsay painted his largest work, An equestrian portrait, a study of his doctor’s son.

An equestrian portrait (1903). National Gallery of Victoria

He painted portraits of his sisters, culminating in Two girls in white, which he completed in 1904. It is not his final painting. There was another, incomplete, self-portrait, focusing on his solemn face, looking at the underlying structure of his bones, painted just months before his death.

Ramsay was perhaps luckier in his afterlife than in his life. For well over a century, his family have worked to ensure his place in Australian art history. As well as donating many works to public collections, they have endowed the Hugh Ramsay Chair of Australian Art History.

If he were not such an outstanding artist this familial devotion to his memory would be awkward. As it is, the Ramsay family have done us all a service in keeping Ramsay’s name alive in the narrative of Australia’s art history.

Hugh Ramsay is showing at the National Gallery of Australia until March 2020

Joanna Mendelssohn has in the past received funding from the Australian Research Council and the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Authors: Joanna Mendelssohn, Principal Fellow (Hon), Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. Editor in Chief, Design and Art of Australia Online, University of Melbourne

Read more http://theconversation.com/hugh-ramsay-review-a-virtuoso-of-white-on-white-who-left-the-art-world-too-soon-126587

Latest Wednesday Lotto Results

Wednesday Lotto draw 3917 Lucky numbers for this draw were 43 followed by 25. The rest of the winning numbers are 44, 33, 7 and lastly 15. So, one even and five odd numbers are in the lucky num...

Viw Magazine - avatar Viw Magazine

Chinese students top the PISA rankings, but some Shanghai parents are turning away from the school system

China is fast becoming a middle-class nation. Ewan Yap/UnsplashAustralian 15 year olds were around three and a half years behind their counterparts in China in maths, according to the OECD’s lat...

Hannah Soong, Senior Lecturer in Teacher Education Practice, School of Education, University of South Australia - avatar Hannah Soong, Senior Lecturer in Teacher Education Practice, School of Education, University of South Australia

14 Surprisingly Easy Housekeeping Hacks That Will Impress Your Guests

Everyone wants to present a perfect house when guests come over. The problem is, no one also wants to spend the whole day scrubbing everything super clean. If you follow these smart hacks to prepare...

Giancarlo Stangherlin - avatar Giancarlo Stangherlin

VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on Angus Taylor, medevac and cuts to the public service

Angus Taylor addresses the house during Question Time. AAP/Lukas CochMichelle Grattan talks with University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Deep Saini about the week in politics, ...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

China's failed gene-edited baby experiment proves we're not ready for human embryo modification

The team used CRISPR on human embryos in a bid to render them resistant to HIV infection. But instead, they generated different mutations, about which we know nothing. SHUTTERSTOCKMore than a year ago...

Dimitri Perrin, Senior Lecturer, Queensland University of Technology - avatar Dimitri Perrin, Senior Lecturer, Queensland University of Technology

Remember the arts? Departments and budgets disappear as politics backs culture into a dead end

The federal decision to eliminate a department of arts came as a surprise to public servants. Jade Ferguson/Opera QueenslandThe decision to merge the Department of Communications and the Arts with Tr...

Julian Meyrick, Professor of Creative Arts, Flinders University - avatar Julian Meyrick, Professor of Creative Arts, Flinders University

Curious Kids: how do we know if a dinosaur skeleton is from a child dinosaur or an adult dinosaur?

This T. rex is very big, but was it a grown-up? Shutterstock When you find dinosaur skeletons, how can you tell how old the dinosaur was? Like, if the skeleton is from a child dinosaur or an adult din...

Caitlin Syme, PhD in Vertebrate Palaeontology, The University of Queensland - avatar Caitlin Syme, PhD in Vertebrate Palaeontology, The University of Queensland

Western Australia looks set to legalise voluntary assisted dying. Here's what's likely to happen from next week

If the bill clears its final hurdle next week, Western Australia will become the second state in Australia after Victoria to legalise voluntary assisted dying. from www.shutterstock.comWestern Austral...

Courtney Hempton, Associate Research Fellow, Deakin University - avatar Courtney Hempton, Associate Research Fellow, Deakin University

Award winning, ASX-list data SIM card company promises BIG changes for travellers

FLEXIROAM’s attachable SIM card, FLEXIROAM X Microchip is shaking up the telecommunications industry, fundamentally changing the way travellers use data overseas.   According to Founder and CEO...

Tess Sanders Lazarus - avatar Tess Sanders Lazarus

Friday essay: living with fire and facing our fears

The smouldering ruins of a child's bike lies amongst a property lost to bushfires in the Mid North Coast region of NSW last month. Darren Pateman/AAPIt is only mid-November but we have to walk early t...

Danielle Clode, Senior Research Fellow in Creative Writing, Flinders University - avatar Danielle Clode, Senior Research Fellow in Creative Writing, Flinders University

Explainer: why homicide rates in Australia are declining

Latest figures reveal homocides in Australia are at historic lows. AAP/James RossAccording to the latest figures, homicides in Australia are at historic lows and compare well against international tr...

Terry Goldsworthy, Associate Professor in Criminology, Bond University - avatar Terry Goldsworthy, Associate Professor in Criminology, Bond University

Making space: how designing hospitals for Indigenous people might benefit everyone

Sunshine Coast University Hospital uses evidence-based design to provide outside spaces with views that Indigenous people tell us they value. Architectus, Author providedWelcome to the next article in...

Timothy O'Rourke, Senior Lecturer, School of Architecture, The University of Queensland - avatar Timothy O'Rourke, Senior Lecturer, School of Architecture, The University of Queensland

Vital Signs: Australia's slipping student scores will lead to greater income inequality

While no test is perfect but the Programme for International Student Assessment rankings are pretty useful for understanding the skills young people are being equipped with. www.shutterstock.comThe la...

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW - avatar Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

We're using lasers and toaster-sized satellites to beam information faster through space

The electromagnetic spectrum we can access with current technologies is completely occupied. This means experts have to think of creative ways to meet our rocketing demands for data. NASA Johnson/Flic...

Gottfried Lechner, Associate Professor and Director of the Institute for Telecommunications Research, University of South Australia, University of South Australia - avatar Gottfried Lechner, Associate Professor and Director of the Institute for Telecommunications Research, University of South Australia, University of South Australia

Grattan on Friday: Angus Taylor's troubles go international, in brawl with Naomi Wolf

Morrison would rather live with a problem minister in a key post than give a scalp to Labor. Mick Tsikas/AAPScott Morrison said it with a straight face, and repetition for emphasis. “I’m v...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Early medical abortion is legal across Australia but rural women often don't have access to it

Australian women can have an early medical termination – which involves taking two oral medications – up to the ninth week of pregnancy. Jonatán Becerra/UnsplashAround one in s...

Jane Tomnay, Assoc. Professor / Director of Centre for Excellence in Rural Sexual Health, University of Melbourne - avatar Jane Tomnay, Assoc. Professor / Director of Centre for Excellence in Rural Sexual Health, University of Melbourne

All hail apostrophes - the heavy lifters who 'point a sentence in the right direction'

Doing away with the apostrophe is not just the beginning of the end ... it's the end. www.shutterstock.comReports this week about the demise of the Apostrophe Protection Society may have been greatly...

Roslyn Petelin, Course coordinator, The University of Queensland - avatar Roslyn Petelin, Course coordinator, The University of Queensland

It's the 10-year anniversary of our climate policy abyss. But don't blame the Greens

In 2009, a Bob Brown-led Greens party voted against an emissions trading scheme – but they can't be blamed for what came after. Mick Tsikas/AAPFederal Labor this week commemorated a dubious anni...

Rebecca Pearse, Lecturer, Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney - avatar Rebecca Pearse, Lecturer, Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney

Morrison cuts a swathe through the public service, with five departmental heads gone

Scott Morrison has announced a dramatic overhaul of the federal public service, cutting the number of departments and creating several new mega ones, while removing five secretaries. The departments...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

Latest Wednesday Lotto Results

Wednesday Lotto draw 3917 Lucky numbers for this draw were 43 followed by 25. The rest of the...

Ways Love and Relationships Benefit Body and Mind

Being in a happy relationship is great. You always have someone to greet you when you come home ...

The Importance of Smiling: How You Can Smile More

Happiness is something we all strive for and is often just out of reach. Of course, it’s impos...

5 Things to Do On Your Wedding Morning

After months of meticulous planning, wedding mornings usually find the bride excited but stressed ...