Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Lady, thought to be a member of the Cholmondeley family, c.1740 

Allan Ramsay (1713-84)

Portrait of a Lady, thought to be a member of the Cholmondeley family, c.1740, Allan Ramsay
Oil and Canvas
18th Century
29 x 24 in (73.5 x 61 cm)
Hugh Cholmondeley, 2nd Baron Delamere (1811-1887); By descent to his daughter, Sybil Cholmondeley; By descent to the Burnaby family.
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Allan Ramsay was the most talented artist to emerge from Scotland in the early eighteenth century. Along with later English colleagues such as Joshua Reynolds, he led the way to creating a new, independently British approach to portraiture. This example is one his earlier works, and can be dated to about 1740. Whilst it shows Ramsay’s debt to, and origins in, the more traditional constraints of early eighteenth century portraiture as practiced by followers of Kneller such as Hans Hysing, whose pupil Ramsay was, it also shows the creative flair for elegance that would set Ramsay apart from his contemporaries.

Like many of his English contemporaries, Ramsay worked in loose association with the St Martin's Lane Academy, as a nascent crop of native English artists was beginning to emerge in the 1730s. What gave Ramsay an advantage over his colleagues, however, was an important trip to Rome, undertaken in 1736-8. There Ramsay studied Old Masters, drew copiously, and took inspiration from antiquities such as the Apollo Belvedere, which would later prove crucial to the development of his ‘Grand Manner’ full-length portraits such as the Chief of Macleod of c.1747 [Dunvegan Castle] and The Earl of Elgin [no. xx].

The difference in Ramsay’s work on his return was immediately noticeable to the commissioning public. His works were infused with a delicate Italianate manner, which contrasted markedly with works by competitors such as Thomas Hudson. His portraits of women in particular gained an air of elegance, as seen here, that proved immediately popular, aided in part by the fashion for portraits to show sitters in decorative ‘Van Dyck’ dress. By 1740 Ramsay was able to boast that he was 'the first fiddle' in London portraiture. He had a remarkable client-list for a newcomer, with sitters such as the Duke of Argyll, the Duke of Buccleuch, and the Lord Chancellor, Philip, Earl of Hardwicke.

This graceful portrait compares closely with other examples of the period, such as Jemima, Countess of Hardwicke [1741, Private Collection], Janet, Lady Baird [Private Collection, Scotland], and the larger c.1742 portrait of a Lady as a Shepherdess [formerly Lord Mostyn collection.] It shows Ramsay’s talent for conveying female sensitivity through the use of soft light, and, in its thinly applied paint, we can see the beginnings of Ramsay’s later style of delicate, refined brushwork. The sitter has traditionally been identified as a member of the Cholmondeley family, and the picture has passed by descent from the 2nd Baron Delamere. It may be relevant that the first Baron Delamere married the granddaughter of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 3rd Bt, who had sat to Ramsay in 1741, through which connection this picture may have entered into the Cholmondeley family.
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