Allan Ramsay (artist)

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For other people of the same name, see Allan Ramsay.
Allan Ramsay
Allan Ramsay, Selbstportrait.jpg
Allan Ramsay, self-portrait, c.1737–9
(National Portrait Gallery)
Born 13 October 1713 (1713-10-13)
Edinburgh, Midlothian
Died 10 August 1784(1784-08-10) (aged 70)
Dover, Kent
Nationality Scottish
Education London (1733-36, under Hans Huyssing, and at the St. Martin's Lane Academy); Rome (1736-9, under Francesco Solimena and Francesco Fernandi).
Known for Portraiture
Movement Classicism
Patron(s) Duncan Forbes,
Duke of Bridgewater,
George III
Allan Ramsay in old age by Michael Foye 1776
The lost portrait of Charles Edward Stuart, painted in Edinburgh in 1745
Portrait of David Hume by Allan Ramsay, 1766
Portrait of George III, circa 1762

Allan Ramsay (13 October 1713 – 10 August 1784) was a Scottish portrait-painter.

Life and career[edit]

Allan Ramsay was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the eldest son of Allan Ramsay, poet and author of The Gentle Shepherd.

Ramsay's first wife, Anne Bayne, by Ramsay
Ramsay's second wife Margaret Lindsay, by Ramsay

From the age of twenty he studied in London under the Swedish painter Hans Hysing, and at the St. Martin's Lane Academy; leaving in 1736 for Rome and Naples, where he worked for three years under Francesco Solimena and Imperiali (Francesco Fernandi). On his return in 1738 he first settled in Edinburgh, attracting attention by his head of Duncan Forbes of Culloden and his full-length portrait of the Duke of Argyll, later used on Royal Bank of Scotland banknotes. He later moved to London, where he was employed by the Duke of Bridgewater. His pleasant manners and varied culture, not less than his artistic skill, contributed to render him popular. His only serious competitor was Thomas Hudson, with whom he shared a drapery painter, Joseph van Aken. In 1739 he married his first wife, Anne Bayne, the daughter of a professor of Scots law at Edinburgh, Alexander Bayne of Rires (c.1684–1737), and Mary Carstairs (1695?–1759). None of their 3 children survived childhood, and she died on 4 February 1743 giving birth to the third of them.

One of his drawing pupils was Margaret Lindsay, eldest daughter of Sir Alexander Lindsay of Evelick and Amelia Murray (granddaughter to David Murray, 5th Viscount of Stormont and sister to the naval officer John Lindsay). He later eloped with her and on 1 March 1752 they married in the Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh, though her father never forgave her for marrying an artist. Ramsay already had to maintain a daughter from his previous marriage as well as his two surviving sisters, but told Sir Alexander that he could provide Margaret with an annual income of £100 which would increase ‘as my affairs increase, and I thank God, they are in a way of increasing’ and that his only motive for the marriage was ‘my love for your Daughter, who, I am sensible, is entitled to much more than ever I shall have to bestow upon her’.[1] There were three surviving children from their long and happy marriage, Amelia (1755–1813), Charlotte (1758–1818?), and John (1768–1845).

Ramsay and his new wife spent 1754–1757 together in Italy, going to Rome, Florence, Naples and Tivoli, researching, painting and drawing old masters, antiquities and archaeological sites, and (to earn an income) painting Grand Tourists' portraits. This and other trips to Italy involved more literary and antiquarian research than art. After their return, he was in 1761 appointed to succeed John Shackelton as Principal Painter in Ordinary to George III, beating Hudson to the post; and so fully employed was he on the royal portraits which the king was in the habit of presenting to ambassadors and colonial governors, that he was forced to take advantage of the services of a host of assistants—of whom David Martin and Philip Reinagle are the best known.

He gave up painting in about 1770 to concentrate on literary pursuits, his health shattered by an accidental dislocation of the right arm and his second wife's death in 1782. With unflinching pertinacity, he struggled until he had completed a likeness of the king upon which he was engaged at the time, and then started for his beloved Italy, leaving behind him a series of fifty royal portraits to be completed by his assistant Reinagle. For several years he lingered in the south, his constitution finally broken. He died at Dover on 10 August 1784.


Among his most satisfactory productions are some of his earlier ones, such as the full-length of the duke of Argyll, and the numerous bust-portraits of Scottish gentlemen and their ladies which he executed before settling in London. They are full of both grace and individuality; the features show excellent draughtsmanship; and the flesh-painting is firm and sound in method, though frequently tending a little to hardness and opacity. His full-length of Lady Mary Coke is remarkable for the skill and delicacy with which the white satin drapery is managed; while in the portrait of his brown-eyed second wife Margaret, in the Scottish National Gallery, we have a sweetness and tenderness which shows the painter at his highest. The portrait of his wife also shows the influence of French art, an influence which helped greatly to form the practice of Ramsay, and which is even more clearly visible in the large collection of his sketches in the possession of the Royal Scottish Academy and the Board of Trustees, Edinburgh. Indeed, all his later portraits are characterised by their French elegance and soft colours.

In a documentary broadcast by the BBC in February 2014, Ramsay was shown to be the artist who painted the lost portrait of Charles Edward Stuart in 1745.[2]


Ramsay has paintings in the collection of a few British institutions including the National Gallery in London, Sheffield, Derby Art Gallery (attributed), Glasgow Museum and Newstead Abbey.[3]

Abolitionism and Queen Charlotte's paintings[edit]

Queen Charlotte as painted by Allan Ramsay in 1762

Allan Ramsay was a noted abolitionist and campaigner for the abolition of slavery[citation needed].

Mario de Valdes y Cocom, a historian of the African diaspora, has argued[4] that in several paintings of Queen Charlotte Ramsay deliberately tended to emphasize "mulatto features" which the queen supposedly inherited from a 16th-century African ancestor.

Some of these paintings were reportedly,[by whom?] sent on to the colonies[by whom?] to be used by abolitionists as a de facto support for their cause[citation needed] - i.e., that Africans ought not to be kept in servitude or considered "inferior" when the Queen herself was (at least partially) one of them[citation needed].



  1. ^ Ramsay to Lindsay, 31 March 1752, A. Smart, Allan Ramsay: painter, essayist, and man of the Enlightenment (1992), 96 n. 10
  2. ^ "Lost Bonnie Prince Charlie portrait found in Scotland". BBC News. 22 February 2014. Retrieved 23 February 2014. 
  3. ^ Allan Ramsay, BBC, accessed August 2011
  4. ^ "The blurred racial lines of famous families - Queen Charlotte". PBS. Retrieved 2012-09-26. 

External links[edit]

Court offices
Preceded by
John Shackelton
Principal Painter in Ordinary to the King
Succeeded by
Sir Joshua Reynolds