Allan Ramsay: The Portraitist of Unpretentious Elegance
Depicting the sophisticated and elegant portraits through sensitive handling of pastel colors and describing the nuances of light and shadow contributing to the energetic contributing to the energetic character of the subject, the Scottish-born painter, Allan Ramsay, is celebrated as one of the foremost 18th-century British portraitists.
Best-known for his natural style portraiture, Ramsay was born on October 13, 1713, in Edinburgh, Scotland. The son of a poet and literary antiquary Allan Ramsay, he received rudimentary artistic training in Edinburgh and at the age of twenty he went to London and worked with the Swedish portrait painter Hans Hysing in 1734. His style was also influenced by Francesco Imperiali and Francesco Solimena during his studies in Italy in 1736-38.
In 1739, Ramsay settled in London and soon became a popular portraitist, although he reached the height of his powers only after his return to London from his second visit to Italy in 1754. Formulating a native Scottish style of painting, Ramsay portraiture based on direct observation. He painted numerous portraits in a style that anticipated Sir Joshua Reynolds' grand manner, but his noted lasting reputation rests on his less formal and more intimate studies.
Ramsay’s portraits of women are especially notable for the warmth, tenderness, and bloom of their presentation, as well as for the technical facility with which lace and ruffles are reproduced. The influence of French Rococo portraiture is clear in the lightness and in the unpretentious elegance of these works.
In 1743, Ramsay was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. During his prime period, he had a virtual monopoly on court painting. In 1760, he became the official painter to George III and Principal Painter-in-Ordinary in 1767. While there, he executed little but royal images and most of this work, intended for government buildings, was done by assistants such as David Martin, Alexander Nasmyth, and Philip Reinagle.
Disabled by an accident in 1773, Ramsay henceforth painted little, devoting the rest of his life to political pamphleteering, classical studies, and literary pursuits. A correspondent of Voltaire and Rousseau, Ramsay wrote some poetry and essays. In his essay “On Ridicule” (1753), he wrote that truth was ‘the leading and inseparable principle in all works of art'. Other essays include “Dialogue on Taste” (1755), and “The Investigator” (1762).
After a crippling injury to his arm, he retired in 1782 and traveled several more times to Italy for his health. At 70, he died on the journey home, at Dover, Kent, England, on August 10, 1784.