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On display on Level 1

Hugh RAMSAY

Glasgow, Scotland 1877 – Clydebank', Essendon, Melbourne , Victoria, Australia 1906

  • Australia from 1878
  • England and France 1900-02

Miss Nellie Patterson [Miss Nellie Patterson/Portrait of Miss Patterson] 1903 Title Notes: title adjusted 22/12/2009
Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Primary Insc: signed l.l., oil in monograph "H.R.", not dated
Dimensions: 122.3 h x 92.2 w cm framed (overall) 1375 h x 1070 w x 85 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1966
Accession No: NGA 66.99
Provenance:
  • Private collection.
  • Purchased by the C.A.A.B. (Commonwealth Art Advisory Board), 1966.
  • Transferred to the Australian National Gallery Collection, 18 July 1990.

Five-year-old Miss Nellie Patterson’s large, deep brown eyes fix a determinedly brave look. Yet there is a sense of uncertainty in her expression, perhaps because of her somewhat precarious position atop an enormous pink velvety cushion from which she is said to have continually slipped while sitting for this portrait. One of two daughters of Tom Patterson and Isabella (née Mitchell), Nellie was also a beloved niece of Australian opera diva, Dame Nellie Melba. A doting aunt, Melba commissioned this portrait from Hugh Ramsay after she arrived back in Australia in late 1902, following over 15 years touring Europe and the United States of America. 

In this portrait Ramsay captured the light on Nellie’s pink chiffon party frock, silk sash and matching pink shoes—an expensive French gift from her aunt. Nellie appears in stark contrast to the dim studio interior in which she sits, seemingly angelic. Ramsay emphasised the textures and luminosity of her outfit with his bold use of white paint. This bravura handling of paint was inspired by that of American portrait painter John Singer Sargent. 

Ramsey received early acclaim when, in 1902, at the age of 24, he had four works shown at the New Salon exhibition in Paris. Later the same year in London, he began a portrait of Nellie Melba, but became seriously ill with consumption and returned home to Australia, where he died four years later.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014

Five-year-old Miss Nellie Patterson’s large, deep brown eyes front a determinedly brave look. Yet there is a sense of wariness and unease, perhaps because of her somewhat precarious position atop an enormous, pink, velvety cushion from which she is said to have continually slipped while sitting for this portrait. One of two daughters of Tom Patterson and Isabella (née Mitchell), Nellie was also a beloved niece of Australian opera diva, Dame Nellie Melba. A doting aunt, Melba commissioned this portrait from Hugh Ramsay after she arrived back in Australia in late 1902, following over fifteen years touring Europe and the United States of America. 

In this portrait, Ramsay has expertly captured the quality of light bouncing off Nellie’s pink chiffon party frock, silk sash and matching pink shoes—an expensive French gift from her aunt. Nellie appears in stark contrast to the dim studio interior in which she sits, angelic and glowing. Ramsay has emphasised the textures and luminosity of her outfit with his bold use of white and high-sheen paint. These technical developments were inspired by the bravura style of American artist John Singer Sargent. 

While Nellie’s exquisite young face and fresh skin have been rendered with utmost delicacy, softness and tender realism, large areas of the work are painted with much wider, looser brushstrokes. Patricia Fullerton has surmised that this less detailed brushwork reflects a sense of urgency that developed in Ramsay’s painting as the severity of his illness worsened in the years leading to his death.[1]

Ramsay first met Melba in Paris after he achieved great success in the competitive Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts earlier in 1902. Melba was well known for her patronage of fellow artists and in particular fellow Australians. In December 1902, when both Ramsay and Melba were in Australia, Melba staged an exhibition of 38 works by Ramsay at her Toorak home in Melbourne. This was the only solo exhibition of Ramsay’s works during his lifetime. 

Miss Nellie Patterson remained in the collection of the Patterson family until it was purchased for the national collection in 1966.

Miriam Kelly

[1] P Fullerton, Hugh Ramsay 1877–1906, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1992, p 68.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray Australian portraits 1880–1960 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010