Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Katherine Hall of Dunglass d.1745 1730s

Allan Ramsay (1713-84)

Portrait of Katherine Hall of Dunglass d.1745, Allan Ramsay
Oil on canvas
18th Century
50 x 41 inches 127 x 104 cm
Mrs Wilfort, (probably via family descent) who also owned a portrait of the sitter's father. Her sale, Sotheby''s, London, 21 September 1983, Lot.309. Private collection, U.S.A.
This portrait of Katherine Hall of Dunglass is one of only a handful of paintings that survive from the period prior to Ramsay's first visit to Italy. Painted in Edinburgh in 1736 when the artist was just twenty-two, its re-emergence adds significantly to our appreciation of the artist's early oeuvre.

A related half-length portrait of the sitter, which has remained in the possession of the family, has been known for some time. -1 Of this portrait Alastair Smart wrote that it already foreshadows in its combination of intimacy of characterization and decorative charm the more familiar works from Ramsay's first few years of practice in London. 2 Up until now it has been assumed that a receipt for payment of a portrait of Katherine Hall, which has passed down in the Hall family, relates to this half-length portrait. The receipt is signed by the artist''s father and dated 31 May 1736:

Edr May 31 1736
Recieved [sic] from Ja: Lesley in name of Mr James
Home Writer to Signt three Guineas for Miss Katy Halls picture by my son
Allan Ramsay.

The payment was received just after his son's departure for London prior to his three year sojourn to Italy. In a letter, dated 25 May, the artist wrote to his travelling
Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches, Collection of Mrs.E.K.M.Jackson.
.companion Dr Alexander Cunyngham, I have finishd my pictures, taken leave of most of my friends, and prepared my baggage to be sent away....

This newly emerged three-quarter length, however, reveals compositional as well as stylistic discrepancies in the treatment of the costume which would suggest that the Hall family half-length was in fact painted some years after ours and adapted from it. There is a sense of the Hall half-length having been modified: the billowing pink drapery has been self-consciously truncated into compact folds; the twisting bodice has been simplified into a point; more volume has been given to the left sleeve which is now fastened with a clasp. Most significantly, however, a string of pearls has also been added across the chest and the dress appears to have been updated.

The cut and plainness of the dress in our three-quarter length compares closely with that in other pre-Italy portraits, such as Catherine Hope-Vere of c.1733 and Margaret Calderwood of 1735. 5 By contrast the highlights in the drapery of the half-length are broader, the technique more formulaic in character and the overall glossy finish closer to that found in portraits such as Jane Nisbelt, Lady Banff, which is signed and dated 1743 and in a technique that parallels that of Thomas Hudson in the 1740s. Pertinently it was after his return from Italy that Ramsay first employed the services

Ellen Miles & Jacob Simon, Thomas Hudson, Exh. cat., Kenwood, 1979, Introduction. of the specialist drapery painter, Joseph Van Aken, who was also working at the same time for Hudson.

It could therefore be surmised that the half-length was in fact painted at the time of the Katherine''s marriage to William Hamilton, which took place in 1743. Alternatively, it can also not be ruled out that the half-length was painted shortly after Katherine’s untimely death in 1745. If so, the receipt dated May 1736 actually refers to our three-quarter length portrait, perhaps as a part payment. No complete information survives on the prices that Ramsay charged for portraits at this date. For the full-length portrait of Agnes Murray-Kynnmond Dalrymple as a Child, painted in 1739, he charged 18 guineas.
However, commonly payments for portraits were made in two or more instalments, and the final one on completion and delivery.

With a javelin in her left hand.10 the sitter is portrayed as Diana, the goddess of hunting, and set in the context of a lush Scottish landscape. In the background is the house of Dunglass with the Firth of Fourth beyond. The Dunglass estate is situated on the East Lothian and Berwickshire county boundary, and the house is shown before its Gothick remodelling in 1807-13 by Sir James Hall, 4th Bart.

Ramsay used this role for later female portraits such as Rebecca, Countess of Erroll, c.l749 (Scottish Private Collection). local topography appears unique in Ramsay''s work at this date, and indeed is most unusual in Scottish painting prior to this period.
The sitter was the youngest daughter of Sir James Hall, 2nd Bt. of Dunglass (d. 1742) and by his second wife, Margaret Pringle. She married the celebrated Jacobite poet William Hamilton of Bangour (1704-54) in 1743 and had one son, James, who succeeded to the estate and later married Margaret, daughter of James Bruce of Kinniard. Hamilton belonged to a circle of Edinburgh intellectuals and writers that included Allan Ramsay Senior, who passionately supported the cause of the Stuarts. He contributed lyrics to the poet Ramsay''s famous anthology of Scots verse, The Tea-Table Miscellany, 1724-7 and his Gladsmuir celebrated the Jacobite victory at Prestonpans. After the defeat at Culloden he lost his estates and went into hiding for a while in the Highlands and his A Soliloquy wrote in June 1746 is charged with a deep feeling for the troubles. A portrait of William Hamilton by Gavin Hamilton is in the collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Having entered the short-lived Academy of St.Luke in Edinburgh, Ramsay continued his studies in London under the Swedish painter, Hans Hysing, a former pupil of both Kneller and Dahl, where he remained for only about a year. On his return to Edinburgh in the summer of 1733 Ramsay initially set himself up a portrait painter in his father''s home in the High Street, and was involved in building a large house high on the east side of the Castle-hill for his father''s retirement. This celebrated octagonal mansion, known locally as the Guse-pye house, also commanded a magnificent prospect over the countryside stretching towards the River Fourth. In this building Ramsay set up his studio, calling himself the Artist of the Castle-Hill. As a result of his considerable talents, and partly because of the lack of serious competition, the young artist attracted fashionable clientele.

The few certainly identified portraits he painted during this period reflect the lessons he learned in Hysing''s studio in their surety of design and brightness of palette. They also seem to demonstrate the conscious continuation of a tradition of strong characterisation in Scottish portraiture, an attitude already established in the works of Medina, Smibert and Aikman of the previous generation. This portrait of a local Edinburgh beauty neatly fuses these two influences: high London fashion on one hand, distinct physiognomic and psychological realism on the other, and adds considerably to our understanding of the young artist's earliest formal works.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.