Ramsay and Hume
2011 is the tercentenary of the birth of David Hume, arguably Britain’s greatest philosopher. One of the stories that appeals most to me about le bon David, as he was known in Paris, was that he moved from a flat in the Old Town of Edinburgh to more spacious accommodation in the new – close to where the Portrait Gallery would be built – so that he could have a larger kitchen. He enjoyed cooking and entertaining his friends. One of those friends was the artist Allan Ramsay and Ramsay painted two superb portraits of Hume. One dates from 1766 and shows him so splendidly dressed that when King George 111 saw it he commented that he thought Hume’s costume was rather too fine. To which Ramsay smartly replied:
‘I wished posterity to see that one philosopher during your Majesty’s reign had a good coat upon his back’. That portrait is currently hanging in the Portrait of the Nation exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland.
The other, my favourite, was painted twelve years earlier. It has just gone on loan to Paxton House in Berwickshire. Paxton, which has just reopened to the public for the season, is one of the National Galleries’ partner galleries. Hume was a Berwickshire man and was born at Ninewells, Chirnside, not that far from Paxton. Also, as a Hume (he changed the spelling from Home because as he said ‘thae glaiket English buddies’ made it rhyme with comb), he is distantly related to the Home Robertsons of Paxton. Both portraits will be back in the Portrait Gallery for our reopening in November in a special exhibition about Ramsay and Hume, Citizens of the World.