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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 of Ambrose Patterson, 1901-02

Hugh Ramsay

oil on canvas (sheet: 90.5 cm x 111.8 cm, support: 71.3 cm x 92.0 cm)

Ambrose Patterson (1877–1967) was a printmaker, painter and teacher. Like Hugh Ramsay, Patterson studied under Bernard Hall at the National Gallery School. Travelling in Europe between 1898 and 1899, he continued his studies before returning to Australia via Canada and the United States. By 1901 he was back in Europe, where he was to remain until 1910 enjoying some critical, though little financial, success. Initially, he was sponsored by Dame Nellie Melba, whose sister Belle was married to Patterson’s brother Tom. During this time he became acquainted with Ramsay, with whom he shared a Paris studio, and who was to have an important influence on his work, particularly his self portraiture. Ramsay painted several brilliant portraits of Patterson, and Patterson’s Parisian self portrait from 1902 is a low-keyed highlight of the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. Patterson’s widow recalled ‘my husband looked on Ramsay as an exceptional artist – in fact, I know he felt he was the Australian artist whose work he most admired’. Melba, however, withdrew her support from Patterson, who had married without consulting her and whose work was going in a direction of which she disapproved, and transferred her favours to Ramsay. Having returned to Australia to be feted for his international experience, in 1915 Patterson travelled to Hawaii, where he made a series of woodcuts and put an end to his marriage. Migrating to Seattle, he taught and lectured at the University of Washington Art School from 1919 to 1947, marrying a fellow artist with whom he spent significant periods in Paris and Mexico. Now credited as Seattle’s first modern artist, he became a US citizen in 1928 and did not return to Australia except for a brief, dispiriting visit in 1951.

Hugh Ramsay (1877–1906), painter, was runner-up for the National Gallery Travelling Scholarship in 1899, and sailed to Europe on the same ship as his fellow artist George Lambert. For fifteen months he painted and partied in a cold, grimy Paris studio, gaining some critical success while depending on the Lamberts for an occasional hot meal. In 1902 four of his paintings were chosen for exhibition at the New Salon, Paris; this extraordinary achievement earned him the patronage of Dame Nellie Melba, a relative of his friend Ambrose Patterson. When Ramsay fell ill, she funded his return to Victoria. Here, he worked hard, amassing works for his sole one-man exhibition (at Melba’s rented home in Toorak) before dying of consumption at the age of twenty-eight. It was widely acknowledged that he had the most brilliant potential of the artists of his generation. ‘Had he lived longer’, said Lambert, ‘he would have beaten the lot of us.’

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the Estate of John Oswald Wicking 2003

Accession number: 2003.44

Currently on display: Gallery Six (Tim Fairfax Gallery)

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Artist and subject

Hugh Ramsay (age 24 in 1901)

Ambrose Patterson (age 24 in 1901)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Donated by

John O. Wicking (2 portraits)

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 portrait story video: 2 minutes
Hugh Ramsay portrait story video: 2 minutes
Hugh Ramsay portrait story video: 2 minutes
Hugh Ramsay portrait story video: 2 minutes

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.

Portrait of Ambrose Patterson, 1901-02 Hugh Ramsay
Portrait of Ambrose Patterson, 1901-02 Hugh Ramsay
Portrait of Ambrose Patterson, 1901-02 Hugh Ramsay
Portrait of Ambrose Patterson, 1901-02 Hugh Ramsay

Velasquez Touch

Magazine article by Andrew Sayers AM, 2004

Former NPG Director, Andrew Sayers, explores the creative collaborations between four Australian artists living in Paris during the first years of the twentieth century.

The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery

The Gallery

Explore portraiture and come face to face with Australian identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity.

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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.