Allan Ramsay painted this portrait of his first wife, Anne Bayne, in about 1739. Anne was the granddaughter of the great Scottish architect Sir William Bruce (whose portrait by John Michael Wright is also in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery collection) and the daughter of Alexander Bayne of Logie who was Professor of Municipal Law at Edinburgh University.
Ramsay called Anne his ‘spouse’ before he left Scotland for Italy in 1736, although their marriage contract appears to have been signed in 1739, a year after his return. It’s not known if this portrait was painted before or after Ramsay’s visit to Italy. Anne gave birth to three children, Allan, Bayne and Anne, all of whom died young, and she herself died in 1743.
This work is a stunning example of Ramsay’s early portraiture, and shows his precocious talent for draughtsmanship. It also reveals that even at a relatively young age he had mastered painting the way in which light falls on different surfaces, such as Anne’s left cheek, or her crumpled sleeve.
At first this portrait appears stark and formal, and it certainly seems a very direct, unflattering portrayal of Anne, yet we do get the impression that Ramsay was setting out to produce an affectionate portrait. While the formality of the composition seems constrained and respectful there are also intimate details such as the small scar under the left side of Anne’s bottom lip, and the enigmatic smile that suggests something of the relationship between the sitter and her artist husband.
The portrait of Anne Bayne will be included in ‘Citizens of the World’ one of the inaugural exhibitions when the Portrait Gallery reopens in November 2011.