This information is ©
The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow 2017
"William Hunter" c.1764-65
CRE RAMSAY, Allan; (Scottish; 1713-1784)
oil on canvas
96.0 x 75.0
116.0 x 96.0; French, Louis XVI frame, carved and gilded.
Ramsay's portrait of the founder, Dr. William Hunter is a masterpiece of 'natural' portraiture. It is not signed, and is generally dated to the mid-1760s; it is therefore conceivable that it was commissioned to commemorate Hunter's appointment as Physician in Extraordinary to Queen Charlotte in 1762. Hunter is portrayed wearing a typical eighteenth-century gentleman's outfit. Adorned with a stylish French lace ruffle, he appears as a man of taste rather than a follower of fashion. Diderot, known to both Ramsay and Hunter, may have influenced this choice of costume. When discussing fashion, Diderot suggested that while an old, familiar costume allows the sitter to relax, it also reveals character.
As Smart notes, the composition is one explored by Ramsay in a number of portraits, including that of Hunter's friend, the traveller and classical scholar, Robert Wood in 1755. The pose was inspired by Chardin's The Young Draughtsman, dated 1737 and in a British collection by 1740, when it was engraved by John Faber (National Portrait Gallery, London, Archive Collection). A preparatory drawing for Hunter's portrait (National Gallery of Scotland), shows how Ramsay had first chosen a three-quarter-length composition. By following Chardin's half-length model more closely, the artist was able to draw attention to the sitter's expressive features, and highlight the lively relationship of hands and face.
Hunter's portrait belongs to Ramsay's late career. By 1762, the two Scots had known each other for over twenty years, and both benefited from the patronage of Lord Bute. Within a few years, both were at the top of their professions. When Hunter started to consider having his appearance recorded for posterity, Ramsay would have been an obvious choice. One of the official court artists, he was also the favourite painter of London intellectual circles. Ramsay's art, based on an understanding of the nuances of human physiognomy rather than artistic convention, had Hunter's wholehearted approval.
The portrait offers a dignified, sympathetic portrayal of our founder, 'one which could hang comfortably in a gallery of philosophes', alongside Ramsay's portraits of key figures from the 1760s, including David Hume (1766) or Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1766).
Bequeathed by Dr William Hunter, 1783
PORTRAIT : VELVET : MALE : HUNTER 2007 : WHIG : MEDECINE : LACE : FASHION : NATURAL PORTRAITURE : ON DISPLAY :