Hugh Ramsay was Lambert’s closest associate in Paris. He was an easy, cordial companion, and this is reflected in this portrait. Both artists were students at the Académie Colarossi at 10 Rue de la Grande Chaumière, one of the largest and cheapest French academies, and subsequently at the Académie Delécluze. As well as sharing thoughts on art, they frequently attended exhibitions and visited the Louvre together.
Lambert depicted Ramsay face on, with his features relaxed and his eyes diverted. In his use of a neutral background and tonal colouring he indicated his deference to Ramsay and his tonalist training in Melbourne. Lambert used broad, vigorous brushstrokes which suggest he worked quickly and possibly at night by the light of an oil lamp.
He painted this portrait of Ramsay after he arrived in Paris on 3 February 1901 and before April 1902 when Ramsay departed for London. The Lamberts did not return to London until November 1902, by which time Ramsay had already departed for Australia, leaving in August 1902.
Lambert made several drawings of Ramsay, but this was his only oil portrait and the first of an artist friend. In many of his self-portraits, Ramsay placed himself under critical analysis with a furrowed brow and determined jaw, or with one half of his face in darkness; however, Lambert focused on his friend’s genial face.
Lambert probably kept the painting as a memento of his friend, as it was still in his possession when he died.