Skip to main content

The National Portrait Gallery is temporarily closed to the public until further notice.

Menu

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Portrait sketch of Nellie Melba

1902
Hugh Ramsay

oil on canvas (frame: 73.5 cm x 63.0 cm depth 8.0 cm, support: 68.0 cm x 57.7 cm)

Dame Nellie Melba GBE (Helen Porter Armstrong, née Mitchell) (1861-1931) was a world-renowned soprano. She studied under Pietro Cecchi in Australia and Mathilde Marchesi in Paris. On Marchesi's advice, Armstrong adopted the name Melba, which she derived from her native city, Melbourne. After making her début in Brussels at the age of twenty-six, she appeared regularly at Covent Garden, where she maintained a private dressing room and gave her final performance in 1926. Over the same period, she made sensational tours of the USA and Europe. She was partly resident in Australia from 1909 onwards, and sang the National Anthem at the opening of Parliament House, Canberra in May 1927.

Hugh Ramsay was runner-up for the National Gallery Travelling Scholarship in 1899, and sailed to Europe on the same ship as George Lambert. For fifteen months he painted and partied in a cold, grimy Paris studio, achieving some critical success while depending on the Lamberts for an occasional hot meal. In London, he enjoyed the patronage of Nellie Melba, who was related to an artist friend. When he fell ill, she funded his return to Victoria, where he was to produce more than 20 full-length portraits before dying of consumption at the age of 28. 'Had he lived longer', said Lambert, 'he would have beaten the lot of us.' Ramsay completed this sketch of Nellie Melba in half an hour on the occasion of their first meeting. He said he was 'a bit flabbergasted and too nervous to do a chef d'oeuvre'.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the Mitchell Family and the Fullerton Family 2000

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Hugh Ramsay (age 25 in 1902)

Dame Nellie Melba GBE (age 41 in 1902)

Subject professions

Performing arts

Donated by

Jennifer Sutherland (1 portrait)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Hugh Ramsay

'Letters from Paris'

Portrait story

Hugh Ramsay's letters were written while he was living in Paris to his family back in Australia.

Charles Haddon Chambers
Charles Haddon Chambers
Charles Haddon Chambers
Charles Haddon Chambers

Suave

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2010

Charles Haddon Chambers the Australian-born playboy playwright settled permanently in London in 1880 but never lost his Australian stance when satirising the English.

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency