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The sisters



Hugh Ramsay


25 May 1877 - 05 Mar 1906


Hugh Ramsay's keen insight into character and poetic sensitivity to colour and scale, coupled with his remarkable technical virtuosity, made him one of Australia's most important portraitists. From an early age his precocious talent held the promise of a fine career, but Ramsay had a tragically short life. He contracted tuberculosis in 1902 and died at the age of 29.

'The sisters' was painted after a two-year sojourn in England and France, with the influence of Velásquez and John Singer Sargent evident in Ramsay's vivacious paint handling and the shimmering fabric of the dresses, which he has captured to great effect. It is also an interesting autobiographical painting, a composite portrait of his three sisters, Madge, Nell and Jessie.


Other Title

Two girls in white



Media category


Materials used

oil on canvas on hardboard


125.7 x 144.8 cm board; 123.7 x 143.8 cm sight; 152.7 x 162.8 x 5.5 cm frame

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased 1921


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Hugh Ramsay

Works in the collection


Shown in 19 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 61 publications


Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales picturebook, Sydney, 1972, 90 (colour illus.).

Leigh Astbury, Art and Australia (Vol. 37, No. 2), 'Linda Sproul, Tom Roberts and the White Woman Project', pg. 232-235, Sydney, Dec 1999-Feb 2000, 234.

Australian Exhibition Commission, Catalogue: British Empire Exhibition (Wembley) 1924, 1924, 93. no catalogue numbers

Herbert Badham, A gallery of Australian art, Sydney, 1954, (illus.). plate no. 17

Candice Bruce, Brought to Light: Australian Art 1850–1965 from the Queensland Art Gallery collection, 'Family and a Special Friend. George Washington Lambert Portrait group (The mother)', pg. 102-7, Brisbane, 1998, 106.

A. C., Age, 'Australian artists of the past: Hugh Ramsay', Melbourne, 10 Sep 1932.

Edmund Capon, I blame Duchamp: my life's adventures in art, 'John Bull and the Little Boy at Manly', pg. 321-333, Sydney, 2009, 328.

Edmund Capon, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'The greatest Australian paintings', pg. 46-49, Sydney, 07 Sep 1985-08 Sep 1985, 46 (illus.), 48. Good Weekend Magazine supplement

Edmund Capon and Jan Meek (Editors), Portrait of a Gallery, 'Australian Art in the Old Courts', pg. 24-37, Sydney, 1984, 30, 31 (colour illus.).

Edmund Capon, Art Gallery of New South Wales: highlights from the collection, Sydney, 2008, 62-63 (colour illus.).

Betty Churcher, Australian notebooks, 'Art Gallery of New South Wales', pg. 45-90, Carlton, 2014, 56 (colour illus.), 254, 255.

Jonathan Cooper (Editor), The Art Gallery of New South Wales Bulletin, 'Close-Ups of the Collection', pg. 36, Sydney, Feb 1997-Apr 1997, 36 (colour illus.).

Garry Darby, Women's view (vol. 8, no. 8), 'Hugh Ramsay: Some women in his life', pg. 5-7 and 30., Camperdown, Winter 1993, cover (colour illus., detail), 5, 6, 7 (colour illus.).

Deborah Edwards, Two centuries of Australian painting: a selection from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Introduction', pg. 8-14, Sydney, 1986, 11, 23 (illus.), 24. 15

Sarah Engledow, Impressions: painting light & life, Catalogue essay, pg. 7-16, Canberra, 2011, 15, 146 (caption), 147 (colour illus.). 65

Brian Finemore, Painting, London, 1961, 16 (illus.).

Elizabeth Fortescue, Daily telegraph mirror, 'Patricia and the portraits of an artist who died a young man: The rescue of Ramsay', pg. 92-93, Sydney, 08 May 1993, 93 (illus.). NOTE: Patricia Fullerton is positioned infront of painting.

Patricia Fullerton, Hugh Ramsay: his life and work, Hawthorn East, 1988, 120, 121 (colour illus.), 124-125, 134, 136, 137, 151, 152, 209. 173; plate no 43; Appendix Two - Catalogue: paintings

Patricia Fullerton, Antiques & art in Victoria, 'Hugh Ramsay: Tragic hero of Australian Art', pg. 10-12, Bondi Junction, Nov 1992-Mar 1993, 12.

Patricia Fullerton, Hugh Ramsay 1877-1906, Melbourne, 1992, 13, 74 (colour illus., detail), 75 (colour illus.). 49

Patricia Fullerton, Australian Dictionary of Biography (Vol 11), 'Ramsay, Hugh (1877-1906)', pg. 326-327, Melbourne, 1988, 326-327.

Sasha Grishin, Australian art: a history, 'Australian expatriates of the Edwardian period in Great Britain', pg. 160-173, Carlton, 2013, 165 (colour illus.), 166, 548, 567. plate no. 17.4

Elioth Gruner (Organiser), Catalogue of an exhibition of the works of Australian artists, Sydney, 1923. not paginated, 47, Room X

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Painting and Sculpture', pg. 102-181, Sydney, 1999, 128 (colour illus.).

P.G. Konody, Art in Australia [series 3, no. 7], 'The Australian exhibition in London', pg. 924-928, Sydney, Mar 1924, 927, 931.

Richard Linden, Australia's best painters: Tom Roberts, Hugh Ramsay and Thea Proctor, 'Hugh Ramsay: A young master', pg. 23-28, Port Melbourne, 1997, 27, 28 (colour illus.).

Lionel Lindsay., Jubilee exhibition of Australian art, 'Foreward', Sydney, 1951, 40, 55 (colour illus.). not paginated; 110

Lionel Lindsay., The exhibition of Australian art to be held at the galleries of the Royal Academy London, 1923, 'Australian Art', Sydney, 1923. 47; not paginated

Lionel Lindsay, 150 years of Australian art, Sydney, 1938. 810

Anne Loxley, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Olley, Smart and a few of their favourite things', pg. 34, Sydney, 16 Jan 2002, 34.

Laura M. Markowitz, The Independent Monthly, 'The sibling factor', pg. 72-73, Australia, Jul 1994, 72, 73 (colour illus.).

Ewen McDonald, AGNSW Collections, 'From Colonialism to late Modernism', pg. 7-106, Sydney, 1994, 25 (colour illus.).

Hal Missingham, A retrospective exhibition of Australian painting, Sydney, 1953. 93

Drusilla Modjeska, Stravinsky's lunch, Sydney, 1999, 3 (illus.).

William Moore, The story of Australian art from the earliest known art of the continent to the art of today (Vol. 1), 'Galleries', pg. 179-214, Sydney, 1934, between 186–187 (illus.), 192.

Margaret Olley and Jeffrey Smart, Favourites: Margaret Olley and Jeffrey Smart selections, Sydney, 2002. No catalogue numbers; Margaret Olley selection.

Olympic Civic Committee of Melbourne City Council, The arts festival of the Olympic Games, Melbourne: a guide to the exhibitions with introductory commentaries on the arts in Australia, Melbourne, 1956, 103 (illus.), 144. 108; Collection of National Art Gallery of New South Wales

Barry Pearce, Fifteen decades of Australian paintings, Sydney, 1981, (colour illus.). 8

Barry Pearce, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian', pg. 13-35, Sydney, 1988, 20 (illus.).

Barry Pearce and Haruo Arikawa, Two hundred years of Australian painting: nature, people and art in the southern continent, Tokyo, 1992, 111 (colour illus.). 60

Ursula Prunster, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Home and abroad', pg. 73-74, Sydney, 2000, 74, 93 (colour illus.), 302.

Bernard Rigby, Look, 'The brain and portraiture: What we see and how we see it', pg. 13, Sydney, Feb 2005, 13 (colour illus.).

Robert Rooney, The Australian, 'Our forgotten Keats', pg. 8, Sydney, 02 Jan 1993-03 Jan 1993, 8.

Andrew Sayers, Australian art, 'Beautifying the objects of our daily life': Art and decorative art 1890-1920', pg. 98-119, Oxford, 2001, 116, 117 (illus.). plate no. 65

Lynne Seear, American Impressionism & Realism: A landmark exhibition from The Met, 'Continental drift: Stories from Australia about an American exhibition', pg. 51-61, Sydney, 2009, 56 (colour illus.), 59, 216 (colour illus., detail), 217, 222, 223 (colour illus.), 321, 330. 19A; Exhibited in the 'Studios and Portraits Australia' section

Lynne Seear, ARTlines [issue 2, June-August 2009], 'Portraits and pathos', pg. 28-31, Brisbane, 2009, 28 (colour illus.), 31.

Sir Baldwin Spencer, Argus, 'Hugh Ramsay: an Australian artist', pg. 5, Melbourne, 28 Sep 1918, 5. Opening speech by Sir Baldwin Spencer of the Hugh Ramsay memorial exhibition, held in October 1918 at the Fine Art Society, Melbourne.

William Splatt and Barbara Burton, 100 masterpieces of Australian painting, Adelaide, 1973, 102, 103 (colour illus.). plate no. 48

Arthur Streeton., Age, 'The National Gallery: work of the students', Melbourne, 24 Dec 1929.

Jill Sykes (Editor), Look, Melbourne, Oct 2001, 35 (illus.).

Wendy Symonds (Editor), Look, Heidelberg, Apr 1997, 3 (colour illus.), 6.

Daniel Thomas, Creating Australia: 200 years of art 1788-1988, 'Twentieth-Century Art: The Individual', pg.188, Melbourne, 1988, 188, 189 (colour illus.).

Edward A. Vidler, The Triad: a journal devoted to literacy, pictorial, musical and dramatic art, 'The Ramsay Touch', pg. 30-31, Sydney, 10 Dec 1918, 31. 1; titled 'The Sisters'

Edward A. Vidler, The art of Hugh Ramsay, 'Hugh Ramsay: An appreciation', pg. 5-20, Melbourne, 1918, 8, 17 (illus.), 26.

Donald Williams, In our own image: the story of Australian art, Sydney, 1995, 86 (colour illus.), 87.

Donald Williams, In our own image: the story of Australian art, 'In focus - Hugh Ramsay', pg. 76-77, Sydney, 2002, 76 (colour illus.), 77.

Ruth Zubans, Art and Australia (Vol. 26, No. 3), 'Book Reviews', pg. 404, Sydney, Autumn 1989, 404. Book review of Patricia Fullerton's 'Hugh Ramsay: his life and work'.

Editor Unknown (Editor), Argus, 'Paintings of Hugh Ramsay. Australian's notable work', Melbourne, 01 Oct 1918. Review of Hugh Ramsay's 1918 Memorial Exhibition, held at the Fine Art Society, Melbourne.

Author Unknown, Victorian Artists' Society Winter Exhibition Catalogue 1904, Melbourne, 1904, (illus.). 27; titled 'Two girls in white'

The Seventh Federal Exhibition (1904), South Australia, 1904, 12. 77; titled 'Two girls in white'

The Adelaide Festival of Arts 1962: Special exhibitions at the National Gallery of South Australia, 'Australian Painting: Colonial, Impressionist, Contemporary', Adelaide, 1962. not paginated, 80