Margaret Lindsay's skin has a radiant whiteness that makes her hand one of the focal points of the painting. The shadows on the skin and the white highlights that indicate the shine of her fingernails are faithful to the preparatory study, but Ramsay made subtle improvements to the form of the hand in his painting. It displays a better understanding of the skeleton of the hand: the fleshy area between Margaret's little finger and her wrist was straight and more angular in the drawing, compared to the naturalistic curve of the palm that he achieved in paint. The stem of the rose she holds is slightly more arched than in the drawing, which serves to enhance the refinement and elegance of her gesture. To Ramsay, grace and poise were all-important.
This tender and informal portrait of his second wife illustrates Ramsay's mature style, following his second visit to Italy (1754-7). He captures beautifully the fall of light on her face and on the pretty lace and fabrics of her clothes. She holds one of the flowers she was arranging in their London home as she turns towards her husband and looks out to meet our gaze. The couple had eloped in 1752 and married in the Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh. Margaret was never forgiven by her father, Sir Alexander Lindsay of Evelick, Perthshire, for marrying what he considered a lowly, albeit highly successful, artist.
Ramsay, named after his father who was a poet, was internationally renowned for his outstanding portraits. He attended the new Academy of St Luke in Edinburgh and then continued his artistic education in Italy. He visited Rome, studying at the French Academy and Naples. British residents commissioned many portraits from him and as soon as he returned to London he established a successful studio. He also returned to Edinburgh regularly. King George III appointed him King's painter. As a gifted conversationalist and writer of essays, Ramsay pursued his scholarly interests when injury to his right arm in 1773 cut short his painting career.
Academy of St Luke, Commission
Academy of St Luke
An art academy founded in Rome in the late 16th century with painter Federico Zuccaro the first president. Supported by the Pope, it strove to raise the status of artists above that of craftsmen. Also the name of the first art school in Edinburgh.
When an individual or organisation employs an artist to execute a particular project, the process and the resulting work are termed a ‘commission’.