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Hugh Ramsay’s Jeanne


Hugh Ramsay studied at the National Gallery School, Melbourne, from 1894 to 1899. He won numerous prizes during his time there and was considered by the Director, Bernard Hall, as one of his most brilliant students. Ramsay missed out to Max Meldrum for the school’s 1899 Travelling Scholarship, but nevertheless found his way to Paris in 1901. In that year, one of his pictures was accepted by the Old Salon, and in 1902 he had the phenomenal success of having four of his works accepted and hung prominently, ‘on the line’, at the New Salon. His 1901 portrait of Jeanne, the daughter of his concierge in Montparnasse, was among them. The portrait is exceptional in his oeuvre for the Whistlerian subtlety and beauty of its composition, technique and palette. Jeanne is also an extraordinarily sympathetic study of a young person. 

On the brink of an international career as a portrait painter, Ramsay was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was forced to return to Melbourne, where he died in 1906, aged twenty-eight. Jeanne has been held by the Ramsay family since the artist’s death, but was on loan to the National Gallery of Victoria for almost forty years (1947–86). During that time the painting became a great favourite with the public and was universally recognized as one of Ramsay’s masterpieces (the other being the Sargentesque Two Girls in White (The Sisters), 1904, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales). The portrait has been widely published in the literature of Australian art. 

Terence Lane