Allan Ramsay, a Scottish portrait painter in the 18th century, had a unique style of painting. A majority of Ramsay’s work revealed many important elements, which reflected the royal society and beliefs of the 18th century. Most of which, was inspired by numerous Italian and French painters such as his good friend, David Hume; a popular philosopher during that time (Warburton, 40-41). Ramsay’s inspiration derived mainly from dominant figures in his life, so he decided to paint them.
Allan Ramsay, named after his father, Allan Ramsay, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on October 13, 1713 (Martin, 355). Allan Ramsay’s father was a popular poet during the 18th century, so Allan Ramsay was exposed to great schooling and intermediate training early in life (p. 355). At the age of 20, Ramsay attended St. Martin’s Lane Academy in London. There, he studied painting as one of Hans Hysing’s students; a Swedish painter (p. 355-356). After Ramsay discontinued his studies at St. Martin’s Lane Academy, he traveled to France and Italy between 1736 and 1738. When Ramsay was in Rome, Italy, he began more professional studies with Francesco Imperiali and Francesco Solimena (p. 355). However, Pompeo Batoni, also an Imperiali student, grew to be a major influence on Ramsay.
When Ramsay returned to London in 1740, he was appreciated for his immense talents in portraiture painting (p. 355). According to Alastair Smart, “Ramsay’s career was composed essentially of two phases, during the first of which he had been the principal founder of a truly national school of portraiture, faithfully reflecting the modes, manners and ideals of the beau-monde in the reign of George II, and during the second had created a new, natural style of portraiture combining intense characterization with unaffected grace” (p. 355). Most of Ramsay’s influence derived from Italy, including David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, and Samuel Johnson (Martin 355). Ramsay began capturing his most important influences in his paintings, incorporating strong light sources to captivate the significance of the figures (Hayes, 190). Most of Ramsay’s work revolved around The Seven Years War and science, in which he incorporated neutral colors, and maturity to express the overall mood of the time period.
War, politics, economics, religion, culture, and science were the main dilemmas during the 18th century, which made his art very popular (Crosland, 25-27). Due to Ramsay’s breath taking work, filled with such passion and intellect, he became known as “essayist and man of enlightenment” (Martin, 355). Many of his paintings revealed signs of inspiration. For example, many art critiques found that he dressed many of his models in Van Dyke clothing. An abundance of Ramsay’s work was inspired mainly by the Italian and French culture (Millar, 708). Ramsay had a great fascination with juxtapositions and directness, which always served as the important elements of his portraiture. His design quality conveyed simplicity, and he often described “Half-lengths in feigned ovals, which were forthright and pungently characterized” (Hayes, 190).
Natural quality was demonstrated in his masterpieces, and often presented a state of sympathy. Ramsay’s technique appeared “stylistic”, and revealed a rich vibrant pigment throughout the compositions. The treatment of detailed clothing expressed his interest and respect for Italian fashion. However, many people began to notice a difference in his painting style during 1753 (Hayes, 190-193). The usual gray half tones in the figures’ flesh were no longer visible in the portraits. Instead, the chosen color palette appeared to create strong contrast, resulting in a tranquil mood. For example, in his painting, Lady Walpole Wemyss, gentle pale grays overlapped the flesh tones, creating a dull neutral color scheme. Ramsay’s new technique created a wide range of color, elegance, and demonstrated such care within the poses. The specified highlights around the eyes and lips, and detail in the hair and clothing convey emphasis (Hayes, 190-193).
Along with Ramsay’s new painting approach, “The combination of French influence, eventually from a variety of sources, with that of Italian, chiefly Batoni, produced a style which flowered in the later 1750’s and was Ramsay’s distinctive contribution to British portraiture” (Hayes, 190). Ramsay also conveyed a distinctive use of expressive hand gestures in portraits, often to illustrate their royal status, moods, and personality. In addition to demonstrating such expressive gestures, he also captured the significance of family relationships and motherly love. Queen Charlotte and her two sons is a perfect example of Ramsay capturing the everyday emotions and life of the figures (Martin, 355). According to Alastair Smart, “Ramsay is among the most charming of portrait painters” (Woodward, 297). During that time period, artists captured exact proportions and often painted significant figures of high status. They also focused on form and identified light versus dark, using a rich bold palette, and exaggerated facial features, which Ramsay was best known for.
Allan Ramsay will be remembered for his unique style of painting, and many people today still feel the captured emotions in his portraits, as they observe. Talented artists such as Allan Ramsay, introduced many new ideas, concepts, and forms of painting, which are greatly appreciated. He was inspired by artists during his time, learned, and experimented with a variety of techniques. Today, painters like Allan Ramsay inspire us to create and build upon the world of art.