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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Portrait sketch of Nellie Melba

1902
Hugh Ramsay

oil on canvas (frame: 73.5 cm x 63.0 cm depth 8.0 cm, support: 68.0 cm x 57.7 cm)

Dame Nellie Melba GBE (1861–1931), world-renowned soprano, studied under Pietro Cecchi in Melbourne and Mathilde Marchesi in Paris. On Marchesi's advice, she adopted the name Melba, which she derived from her native city Melbourne. After making her début in Brussels at the age of 26, she appeared regularly at Covent Garden, where she maintained a private dressing room and gave her final performance in 1926. Over the same period, mobbed everywhere by fans and enjoying the attention of many lovers, she made sensational tours of the USA and Europe. She was partly resident in Australia from 1909 onwards, and sang the National Anthem at the opening of Parliament House, Canberra in May 1927.

Artist Hugh Ramsay sailed to Europe in 1900. For fifteen months he painted and partied in a cold, grimy Paris studio, achieving critical success at the Salon. In London, he enjoyed the patronage of Nellie Melba. When he fell ill, she funded his return to Melbourne, where he was to produce more than 20 full-length portraits before dying of consumption at the age of 28. Ramsay completed this sketch of Melba in half an hour on their first meeting in his Paris studio. He said he was 'a bit flabbergasted and too nervous to do a chef d'oeuvre'.

Gift of the Mitchell Family and the Fullerton Family 2000

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Hugh Ramsay (age 25 in 1902)

Dame Nellie Melba GBE (age 41 in 1902)

Subject professions

Performing arts

Donated by

Jennifer Sutherland (1 portrait)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Self-portrait in white jacket , 1901-02 Hugh Ramsay
Self-portrait in white jacket , 1901-02 Hugh Ramsay
Self-portrait in white jacket , 1901-02 Hugh Ramsay
Self-portrait in white jacket , 1901-02 Hugh Ramsay

Wunderkind lost

Magazine article by Inga Walton, 2021

Inga Walton on the brief but brilliant life of Hugh Ramsay.

Hugh Ramsay

'Letters from Paris'

Portrait story

Hugh Ramsay's letters were written while he was living in Paris to his family back in Australia.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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