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 ended his painting career.