STILL LIFE, 1901/02

Important Australian + International Fine Art
30 November 2011


(1877 - 1906)
STILL LIFE, 1901/02

oil on canvas

38.0 x 61.0 cm

signed lower left: Hramsay

$30,000 - 40,000
Sold for $40,800 (inc. BP) in Auction 23 - 30 November 2011, Melbourne

Retained by the artist's family, Melbourne
Thence by descent
Private collection, Melbourne


Exhibition of Pictures by Hugh Ramsay, 'Myoora',the Toorak residence of Madam Nellie Melba, Melbourne, 16–18 December 1902, cat. 3
Focus on Hugh Ramsay, McClelland Gallery, Langwarrin, 1983, cat. 19
The Nell Turnbull Collection, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Mornington, July – August 2005, cat. 13


Fullerton, P., Hugh Ramsay: His Life and Work, Hudson Publishing, Melbourne,1988, cat. 149, p. 206 (illus.)

Funds raised from the sale of this painting will go towards establishing a Chair at Melbourne University.

Catalogue text

Hugh Ramsay, the most acclaimed prize-winning student from the Melbourne Gallery School, was 23 when he arrived in Paris in January 1901. At the time Paris was the undisputed art centre of the western world attracting throngs of foreigners to its rich ateliers and culture. Rupert Bunny, John Russell, Phillips Fox and many other Australians were already working there. Toulouse Lautrec was about to die and Picasso had recently come to stay.

He accepted James MacDonald's offer to share his ramshackle studio at 51 Boulevard St Jacques, Montparnasse, on the edge of the bohemian Latin Quarter. Fellow artists in the building included another Melbourne student, Ambrose Patterson, and American artists, Frederick Frieseke and Henry Ossawa Tanner. When the Lamberts took up lodgings nearby, they joined the small fraternity.

Both Ramsay and George Lambert attended classes at the Colarossi Academy, enriching their art appreciation by frequent visits to The Louvre to study the Old Masters, notably Velasquez, and then sharing endless discussions afterwards.

Working by day, and often into the night by gas-lamp, Ramsay experimented with many self portraits and studies, often including the furniture and props in his studio. His work improved to such an extent that Lambert and Patterson came to regard him as their mentor. 'The long strides forward that Ramsay made, by contrast, threw all Lambert's work into the shade.'1

However, nothing could confirm his status among his peers more than his outstanding success at the New Salon in 1902, when four of his pictures were accepted. Not only was this an exceptional honor for a young 24 year old exhibiting for the first time, but they also had the rare distinction of being 'hung on the line'.

Success led to introductions including Nellie Melba, who commissioned him to paint her portrait in London. Sadly, his neglect of diet and the unsanitary conditions of the Paris studio had contributed to incipient tuberculosis. Melba's portrait was never completed. With a generous loan from her, he returned to Melbourne a broken man. However, against doctor's warnings, he continued to paint some of his best works, before dying four years later, aged 28.

Ramsay was renowned for his expertise in still life, one having been accepted at the New Salon.2 Tenderly portraying his tools of trade, this work was one of several done in his Paris studio when painting experimentally, in between classes and having to flatter sitters. He often included a still life in his portraits, where they take on a significant role.3

1. Lambert, A., Thirty Years of an Artist's Life, Society of Artists, Sydney, 1938, p. 31
2. Still Life: Books, Mask & Lamp in Fullerton, P., Hugh Ramsay: His Life and Work, Hudson Publishing, Melbourne, 1988, cat. 148
3. Self-portrait, smoking in front of piano (Fullerton, op.cit., cat. 129) and Student of the Latin Quarter (Fullerton, op.cit., cat. 144), both in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne