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HAY, DAVID RAMSAY (1798–1866), decorative artist and writer on art, was born in Edinburgh in March 1798. His mother, Rebecca Carmichael, a cultivated woman who in 1790 published a volume of ‘Poems’ in Edinburgh, was left entirely destitute on the early death of her husband. David Ramsay, a banker in Edinburgh, and proprietor of the ‘Edinburgh Evening Courant,’ after whom the boy had been named, saw that he received some education, and placed him in a printing-office as a ‘reading-boy.’ The occupation proved uncongenial, and Hay showed an aptitude for drawing, which led to his apprenticeship in his fourteenth year to Gavin Beugo, a heraldic and decorative painter in Edinburgh. A fellow-apprentice, who became a lifelong friend, was David Roberts, afterwards R.A. Hay devoted his spare time to the higher branches of art, and especially to animal painting. Some examples of his work of this class, and some oil copies after Watteau, are still in the possession of his family. He now attracted the attention of Scott, for whom he painted a portrait of a favourite cat, and who recommended him to adopt such a branch of decorative art as house-painting—‘a department of obvious and direct utility, in which the mass of the people are concerned’—rather than the higher walks of the profession. Scott employed him in the decoration of Abbotsford, along with George Nicholson, a partner whom Hay had joined. They were aided, we are informed, by his partner's brother, William Nicholson, afterwards the portrait-painter and R.S.A. About 1828 Hay started in business on his own account, first at 89 and afterwards at 90 George Street, Edinburgh, where he continued for the rest of his life to practise as a most successful house-decorator. Among his more important public works was the decoration of the hall of the Society of Arts, London, executed about 1846. Several of the leading house-decorators in Edinburgh and Glasgow were his pupils, and they founded in memory of their master ‘The Ninety Club,’ named from the number of his place of business in George Street, a society which still holds an annual dinner. He published many elaborate works on the theory and practice of the fine arts, most of them illustrated by his own designs; moved in the most cultivated Edinburgh society of his day; and accumulated a fine collection of pictures and other art objects. He was a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, before whom he read a paper ‘On an Application of the Laws of Numerical Harmonic Ratio to Forms generally, and particularly to that of the Human Figure;’ and Professor Kelland contributed to the same society an ‘Exposition of the Views of D. R. Hay, Esq., on Symmetric Proportion,’ for both of which see ‘Proceedings,’ vol. ii. He was also a founder of the Æsthetic Society, established in Edinburgh in 1851, of which Professors Kelland, Goodsir, and J. Y. Simpson, Dr. John Brown, E. S. Dallas, and Sheriff Gordon were members. Goodsir read before the society two papers ‘On the Natural Principles of Beauty,’ founded on Hay's ‘Geometric Beauty of the Human Figure,’ a work in which the author had been considerably aided by the professor's anatomical knowledge. In 1846 Hay received from the Royal Scottish Society of Arts a silver medal ‘for his machine for drawing the perfect egg-oval or composite ellipses.’ He died in Edinburgh on 10 Sept. 1866. His portrait, a small cabinet work by Sir George Harvey, P.R.S.A., is in the possession of the Royal Scottish Academy, and in 1867 a large series of his ‘educational diagrams, illustrative of his theory of the beautiful and its application to architecture, sculpture, and art production in general,’ was presented to the Board of Manufactures, Edinburgh, by his family and trustees.

His works are: 1. ‘The Laws of Harmonious Colouring adapted to House Painting,’ 1828 (six editions, the latest of which, 1847, is practically a new work). 2. ‘The Natural Principles and Analogy of the Harmony of Form,’ 1842. 3. ‘Proportion, or the Geometric Principle of Beauty analysed,’ 1843. 4. ‘Original Geometrical Diaper Designs, accompanied by an attempt to develop the true Principles of Ornamental Design as applied to the Decorative Arts,’ 1844. 5. ‘A Nomenclature of Colours, Hues, Tints, and Shades applicable to the Arts and Natural Sciences,’ 1845 (2nd edition, 1846). 6. ‘The Principles of Beauty in Colour systematized,’ 1845. 7. ‘First Principles of Symmetrical Beauty,’ 1846. 8. ‘On the Science of those Proportions by which the Human Head and Countenance as represented in works of ancient Greek Art are distinguished from those of ordinary Nature,’ 1849. 9. ‘The Geometric Beauty of the Human Figure defined; to which is prefixed a System of Æsthetic Proportion applicable to Architecture and the other formative Arts,’ 1851. 10. ‘A Letter to Patric Park, Esq., R.S.A., in reply to his Observations upon D. R. Hay's Theory of Proportion. With an Appendix,’ 1851. 11. ‘A Letter to the Council of the Society of Arts on Elementary Education in the Art of Design,’ 1852. 12. ‘The Natural Principles of Beauty as developed in the Human Figure,’ 1852. 13. ‘The Orthographic Beauty of the Parthenon referred to a Law of Nature. To which is prefixed a few Observations on the importance of Æsthetic Science as an Element in Architectural Education,’ 1853. 14. ‘The Harmonic Law of Nature applied to Architectural Design,’ 1855. 15. ‘The Science of Beauty, as developed in Nature and applied in Art,’ 1856.

[Knight's English Encyclopædia, Biography, vol. iii. 1856; Lockhart's Life of Scott, vol. v. ch. xii. 1837; Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, vol. ii.; Turner and Lonsdale's Anatomical Memoirs of John Goodsir, 1868; Minute Book of the Board of Manufactures, Edinburgh; Art Property in possession of Royal Scottish Academy, 1883 (privately printed); Cat. of Advocates' Library, Edinburgh; Ballantine's Life of David Roberts, R.A., 1866; information from family and pupils.]

J. M. G.