About this artwork

The philosopher and historian David Hume was a leading figure of the ‘Enlightenment’. This eighteenth-century movement sought to reform the intolerant societies of the past by fostering more open, rational and progressive values. Nevertheless, it was a period that continued to be dogged by prejudice and inequality, as reflected in Hume’s own views of other nations and racial groups. He wrote dismissively of the ‘cowardice’ and ‘slavish disposition’ of contemporary Italians. Recently, critics have drawn attention to his even more discriminatory attitudes towards Black Africans, whom he described as ‘naturally inferior to the whites’. Ramsay’s portrait of Hume gives no hint of this bigoted mentality but presents him as a self-confident ‘cosmopolitan’, whose experiences extended far beyond the confines of his own country.

Allan Ramsay

Allan Ramsay