Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Captain Rammage RN, probably Edward Ramage (?b.1766/7) c.1805/6 1800c.

David Wilkie 

Portrait of Captain Rammage RN, probably Edward Ramage (?b.1766/7) c.1805/6, David Wilkie
Oil on canvas
19th Century
30 x 25 inches, 76.2 x 63.5 cm
Anonymous sale, Sothebys 15th October 1952, Lot 108 bt. Godfrey; W.J. Walter Ltd, Tunbridge Wells; Mrs Durling, Norfold, Connecticut USA; Private Collection, Connecticut, USA;
We are grateful to Hamish Miles for confirming the attribution to David Wilkie.

David Wilkie was one of the most illustrious artists of the early nineteenth century. Though an accomplished, if reluctant, portraitist, Wilkie is best known for his genre and subject pictures. This picture is one of his rare early portraits, probably painted before, or shortly after, he had entered the Royal Academy schools in London in 1805. Wilkie enjoyed a meteoric rise from his relatively humble Scottish origins. He began in 1804 by painting portraits in his native Edinburgh, and it is possibly there that this example was commissioned. Just twenty years later, however, he enjoyed the rare distinction of seeing his own work in the National Gallery in London, while in 1830 he succeeded Sir Thomas Lawrence as Principal Painter in Ordinary to King George IV.

Little is known of the sitter in this portrait. He is almost certainly Edward Ramage, perhaps connected to the numerous Ramages in Edinburgh. We know from his correspondence with the Duke of Leeds that Edward Ramage was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy by 1790. In 1796 Edward Ramage is recorded as commander of HMS Rattlesnake, a light frigate of sixteen 6-pound guns, made in Chatham in 1791. Ramage played a part in the expansionist British policy in the Indian sub-continent. In 1795 he captured the Dutch ship Maria-Louise when Britain was trying to drive the Dutch, who had been the first European power to open up the eastern trade route, from Ceylon. In February 1796 Ramage, with other ships, escorted five Indiamen carrying troops to occupy the port of Negombo. Soon the troops advanced to Colombo where Ramage’s small squadron gathered out to sea. Colombo surrendered on 15 February.

Perhaps befitting Wilkie’s lifelong dislike of the often formulaic portraits many sitters expected, Captain Ramage is shown in a pose quite different from those used by Wilkie’s contemporaries. Instead of a backdrop dominated by red drapes or even landscape, Wilkie has placed Ramage in a moody, almost mysterious, setting. And yet, at the same time, the picture is not dark or oppressive. It is instead a mastery of introspection, and thus highlights the consummate skill of a great portraitist – the ability to capture personality and character as well as likeness. Here, despite Ramage’s contemplative frame of mind, his features are portrayed with great expressiveness and feeling. The result is a remarkably touching portrait by one of Scotland’s greatest artists.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.