A legacy of art gifted to South Australia

AGSA James Stewart Ramsay AO and Diana Ramsay AOThe Premier of South Australia, the Hon Steven Marshall MP, has announced that South Australia will be the beneficiary of one of this country’s most generous cultural gifts: a $38 million bequest towards the development of the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia bestowed by James Stewart Ramsay AO (1923–1996) and Diana Ramsay AO (1926–2017).

James Ramsay AO’s love for the arts and medicine started early. He was the son of distinguished surgeon Sir John Ramsay and the nephew of the celebrated artist Hugh Ramsay. The Ramsay name is also closely associated with the famous boot polish company KIWI, which was founded by James’s uncle William Ramsay.

It was at the tender age of ten, when escorted through the Gallery by her father, that Diana Ramsay’s love of art was ignited, and it was a Nora Heysen painting titled Scabious, 1930, that she admired the most. In James, she found a fellow art lover and passionate advocate for culture. Together they have supported South Australia with great dedication and purpose – specifically through medical research, youth programs and the performing and visual arts.

This gift clearly stipulates that the use of the bequest to the James and Diana Ramsay Fund be for the acquisition of major works of art by AGSA. This decision will provide a powerful momentum for collection excellence and will ensure that the AGSA collection not only remains of national and international importance but also will expand in prominence and attract even greater visitation to AGSA.

The collection is already one of the state’s most valuable assets. This generous bequest now provides a potent avenue to significantly grow the collection and directly enhance the reputation of the Gallery for the benefit of all South Australians and our visitors.

The Government of South Australia is committed to improving the safeguarding, storage and digitisation of the state’s collections as they continue to grow. Work is progressing on a business case to identify and evaluate options for long-term collection storage, which will include consideration of the needs of AGSA.

“James and Diana were dedicated to the future of South Australia and its culture,” said Premier Marshall, who was a personal friend of Diana Ramsay AO. “Such extraordinary and visionary acts of generosity rarely occur. They provide a catalyst for reputational, cultural and economic growth for generations to come, and inspire others to live generous lives.”

The scale of the bequest is comparable to the country’s most generous cultural gifts, including the Felton Bequest at the National Gallery of Victoria, which has transformed that collection since 1904 until today.

“Diana was well aware of the transformative impact of the Felton Bequest and now she and James have gifted a tremendous legacy that will ensure the excellence of AGSA’s collection for generations to come,” said Kerry de Lorme, Director of the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation.”

The bequest will build on the Ramsay’s long and fruitful relationship with the Gallery. Since 1969 James and Diana Ramsay have assisted the Gallery in multiple ways, particularly in acquiring or donating more than 80 works of art for the collection by artists including Angelica Kauffmann, Napier Waller, Hugh Ramsay and Thea Proctor, and assisting with the acquisition of major works including Prairie à Éragny, 1886, by Camille Pissarro.

One of the most visible works of art is Lindy Lee’s sculpture The Life of Stars, 2015, outside the Gallery on North Terrace. The bequest recently made possible the acquisition of a remarkable work by celebrated British painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, The Black Watchful, 2018, the first work by this artist to enter any Australian collection.

Established by Diana Ramsay 12 years after James Ramsay passed, the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation has further supported AGSA’s innovative and highly successful public programs, including Start, for young people and their families, and The Studio.

The James and Diana Ramsay Foundation has also funded the $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize in perpetuity, one of Australia’s most generous and dynamic art prizes, open to Australian artists under the age of 40. Furthermore, the Foundation continues to contribute to the South Australian community beyond AGSA by supporting excellence in the arts and medical research and supporting youth at risk.

‘The extent of the James and Diana Ramsay’s support of AGSA is breathtaking. Such legacies make an exceptional impact on collections and communities,” said AGSA Director Rhana Devenport ONZM. “The Gallery’s collection has been developed through the great generosity of individual South Australians over its 138 years.”

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and represents the most generous donation in the Gallery’s history. Previous major bequests have been the catalysts for major Gallery expansions such as the Melrose and Elder Wings. We look forward to future growth of the Gallery so that we can fully honour this outstanding gift for the enjoyment and benefit of all South Australians, our visitors, and future generations.”

For more information, visit: www.artgallery.sa.gov.au for details.

Image: The late James Stewart Ramsay AO and Diana Ramsay AO – courtesy of Art Gallery of South Australia