British, 1745–1806

John Russell

"John Russell, father of Anne and William Russell, came from a Yorkshire family.  His father and grandfather were booksellers and print dealers in Hull.  His family background and his youthful talent pointed him in the direction of an artistic career.  He was a pupil of the academic painter Francis Cotes.  Russell began exhibiting in 1760, at the Society of Artists. By 1767, he was working independently, although he remained in frequent contact with his mentor, Cotes. In 1770, he married the daughter of a map and prints dealer, Miss Hanna Foden - a beautiful young woman whose portrait he subsequently painted in pastel. Although his skill was widely recognised - not least at the level of the Royal Academy, where he had been an exhibitor since the foundation of that institution in 1768 - his life was not without its disappointments and frustrations. Much of this can be ascribed to his intransigent religious convictions, an aspect of his character that would cause a rupture in his relationship with Cotes.

He was admitted to associate membership of the Royal Academy in 1772 but did not become a full member until 1778. He travelled extensively in England, spending time in Cambridge and Brighton in 1772, in Kidderminster and Shrewsbury in 1777, in Worcester in 1780 and in Wales in 1781. Some of his best (and rare) landscapes date from after 1781.

He came into a substantial inheritance in 1768 and was by that time earning a considerable amount from his portrait work. On the other hand, he had seven children to feed and clothe. In 1790, however, he was retained as a painter to George III, a position which afforded him access to leading figures in English society. He painted numerous portraits of the English royal family.

Towards the end of his career, he retired to the provinces, most notably to the Yorkshire town of Leeds. A bout of cholera in 1803 left him deaf. Then, in April 1806, he contracted typhoid fever, and died several days later.

John Russell was a remarkable portraitist, whose draughtsmanship and colour sense were widely agreed in his day to rival those of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Excellent as his oils may be, it is for his pastel work that he will be best remembered. He was a hard worker who encouraged his pupils to 'learn all there is to learn about the human anatomy - and then forget it'. His main strength lay in his child portraits, but his delicate rendering of flowers and fabrics also deserves particular mention. He wrote several technical treatises on painting and toiled for over two decades using a telescope and engraving tools to produce a lunar map." (Benezit, Dictionary of Artist, Gründ, 2006).

Museum Collections:
Holburne Museum of Art, Bath
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum and Art Gallery, Brighton
Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds
British Museum, London
Courtauld Institute of Art, London
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
National Maritime Museum, London
National Portrait Gallery, London
Tate Britain, London
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

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Please contact us if you are interested in selling your John Russell paintings or other artwork from the 19th century and early 20th century.