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.’
The many self portraits Ramsay painted in the Paris studio, which are now distributed through the collections of major Australian public galleries, comprise one of the most important series in the history of Australian art. In this characteristically dashing work, Ramsay pays homage to his art heroes, Velasquez and Manet.