25 May 1877 - 05 Mar 1906
Throughout his studentship at Melbourne's National Gallery School, Hugh Ramsay studied the methods of a range of old master painters, but it was the work of Velasquez that he was most intent on pursuing when he left Australia for Europe in 1900. Ramsay's first-hand study of Velasquez would significantly enhance his formative painting practice, particularly his portrait painting, for which he had demonstrated obvious talent as a Melbourne student.
Painted during his initial year in Paris, 'The foil' (1901) suggests Ramsay’s study of Velasquez's methods for enhancing atmosphere, posing the lit figure against a darkened, unembellished backdrop. The sitter for the portrait was John Forrest Ramsay, the artist’s cousin. While guided by the influence of Velasquez's tonalism, 'The foil' is also testament to the range of artistic sources that were shaping Ramsay's painting practice at this time. The elongated format of the work alludes to the grand traditions of portraiture; to van Dyck's "refinement and poetry of line" that Ramsay wrote of from Paris, yet overall exudes an air of simplicity suggestive of contemporary portraiture, particularly the work of Whistler. The subject's pose, dress, backdrop and slim-line form all allude to a Whistlerian style of minimalism. However 'The foil' is ultimately stamped with Ramsay's own emerging subdued aesthetic, or his search, as Bernard Smith once claimed, for the 'true values [of] dark tones'.
oil on canvas
166.4 x 69.7 cm stretcher; 193.3 x 96.5 x 8.0 cm frame :
0 - Whole, 233.5 cm, SIGHT DIMENSION
Signature & date
Signed l.l. corner, black oil "Hugh Ramsay". Not dated.
Gift of the family of Hugh Ramsay 1943
Not on display
Shown in 5 exhibitions
Exhibition of pictures by Hugh Ramsay, 'Myoora', North Caulfield, 16 Dec 1902–18 Dec 1902
Hugh Ramsay memorial exhibition, Fine Arts Society Gallery, Melbourne, 01 Oct 1918–12 Oct 1918
Hugh Ramsay loan exhibition, National Gallery of Victoria [Swanston Street], Melbourne, 16 Mar 1943–18 Apr 1943
Hugh Ramsay 1877-1906, National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], Melbourne, 15 Dec 1992–08 Feb 1993
Hugh Ramsay, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 30 Nov 2019–29 Mar 2020
Referenced in 3 publications
Patricia Fullerton, Hugh Ramsay 1877-1906, Melbourne, 1992, 42 (illus. in colour). cat.no. 20
Bernard William Smith, Place, taste and tradition: a study of Australian art since 1788, 'The aftermath of Impressionism', pg. 146-180, South Melbourne, 1979, 150 (illus.), 151. plate no. 55
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.