IT’S been years in making, but now one of Scotland’s greatest living artists, Alison Watt, is able to pay her own unique tribute to another famous Scottish painter, Allan Ramsay, with a new exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (SNPG) in Edinburgh. Watt, now most known for her beautiful and intricate large-scale paintings of drapery and folds, will exhibit from Saturday a series of new paintings made in response to the practice of the celebrated eighteenth-century Scottish portrait painter Allan Ramsay (1713-84) The exhibition, entitled A Portrait Without Likeness, will run until January 9 next year and will then travel to Inverness where it will be shown at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery from January 29 to April 2, 2022.


A PORTRAIT without Likeness will explore Watt’s continuing fascination with Ramsay’s portraits, and is the fruit of a long period of study into paintings, in addition to drawings and sketchbooks from his extensive archive held by the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS). Watt has long been an admirer of Ramsay’s portraits of women, in particular the intensely personal images of his first and second wives, Anne Bayne (c. 1739) and Margaret Lindsay of Evelick (c. 1726-82). Both portraits reside in Scotland’s national art collection and will be shown alongside Watt’s new work.

Watt said: “Looking into an artist’s archive is to view the struggle that takes place to make a work of art. A painting is a visual record of the inside of the artist’s mind. A painting is something that takes place over time; it is not static. To look at a work of art is to engage with an idea, and that is not a one sided activity. It’s more of a conversation”.

You can find out more in a beautifully-illustrated publication to mark the exhibition featuring conversations between the artist and Chief Curator at the SNPG, Julie Lawson, who has curated the show, as well as contributions from art historian Dr Tom Normand and a new work of short fiction by Booker Prize-nominated novelist Andrew O’Hagan. Watt’s conversations with all three during the gestation period of this body of work has been important to its creation.

The National:


ALISON Watt said: “I’ve been looking at Ramsay’s portraits of his wives, Anne Bayne and Margaret Lindsay, for longer than I can remember. There is no doubt that these portraits are what first drew me to his work and I’ve looked at them intently over the years. It is not only exciting, but also a great privilege to show alongside his paintings at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.”

Christopher Baker, Director of European and Scottish Art and Portraiture at the National Galleries of Scotland, said: “This remarkable group of paintings take Alison’s work in a new direction. Hovering between the genres of still life and portraiture, these beautiful new works use aspects of Ramsay’s paintings for their starting point, but although they may have been inspired by the art of the past, this is a form of study that goes far beyond mere admiration or the modest hope, in her own words, ‘that some of the greatness might rub off on me’.

“In the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Alison’s subtle responses to Ramsay’s work create an extraordinary conversation between two exceptional Scottish artists.”


BORN in Greenock in 1965, Alison Watt came to prominence in the late 1980s whilst still a student at Glasgow School of Art after winning the prestigious annual portrait competition of the National Portrait Gallery in London. She has since exhibited widely, both nationally and internationally.

In 2000, she became the youngest artist to be offered a solo show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art with her exhibition Shift. Watt later served for two years as the Associate Artist of the National Gallery in London, which resulted in her landmark exhibition Phantom in 2008.

Her work resides in many significant collections, including the Uffizi Gallery, Florence; the National Portrait Gallery, London; the US Embassy, London; the National Galleries of Scotland; the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Glasgow; the Arts Council Collection, Aberdeen Art Gallery and the British Council.


A PORTRAIT without Likeness will display several rarely seen drawings by Ramsay and one of his sketchbook archives. They will be exhibited alongside Watt’s responses, made after spending time exploring Ramsay’s archive of drawings and sketchbooks held at the Galleries.