About this artwork

This is the first of two portraits by Ramsay of the historian and philosopher, David Hume. It was painted during Ramsay’s extended stay in Edinburgh in 1754, when, along with Adam Smith, Hume and Ramsay helped found the Select Society debating club. This year also saw the publication of Hume’s first volume of ‘The History of England’. Ramsay has faithfully recorded Hume’s physical appearance, which was described by a contemporary as: “broad and fat, his mouth wide, and without any other expression than that of imbecility…the corpulence of his whole person was far better fitted to communicate the idea of a turtle-eating alderman than of a refined philosopher.” Yet Ramsay displays his skill by succeeding in capturing the intelligence and humanity of his friend.

  • title: David Hume, 1711 - 1776. Historian and philosopher
  • accession number: PG 3521
  • artist: Allan RamsayScottish (1713 - 1784)
  • depicted: David Hume
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Painting
  • materials: Oil on canvas
  • date created: 1754
  • measurements: 76.20 x 63.50 cm (framed: 92.50 x 79.70 x 9.50 cm)
  • credit line: Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax, 2008
  • photographer: Antonia Reeve

Allan Ramsay

Allan Ramsay

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.