Artist biography

English painter. In 1805 he entered the Royal Academy Schools. He participated in the naturalist movement of the early nineteenth century, making oil sketches from nature along the Thames. His friendship with Cornelius Varley led in 1811–12 to his entry into the Baptist church and a more intense interest in humble landscapes, often including labourers at work. In the following decade he made several sketching tours and produced remarkably fresh watercolour sketches. He exhibited his oils at the Society of Painters in Oil and Water-Colours in 1813–20. With his marriage in 1817 and the onset of family responsibilities, he turned his attention to portraiture.

Linnell became more extreme in his views and eccentric in his habits. His eccentricity led to rifts with other artists and may account for his failure to be elected to the Royal Academy.

In the mid 1840s Linnell's increasing prosperity enabled him to give up portraiture, and from 1851, when he settled at Redhill, Surrey, he specialised in rural landscapes. His patrons, however, preferred pastorals, which Linnell was able to see as ‘poetical' by giving them religious significance, and his later landscapes – which became increasingly sketchy and repetitive – sold for high prices. His reputation declined after his death, but his work began to be reassessed in the 1970s, with the emphasis being placed on the more inspired, sometimes visionary, early landscapes.

Bibliography
Artist's estate [Journals (1811, 1817–79), unfinished autobiography (1863) and account books]
London, BM, 1976–1–31–6/7 [Landscape and Portrait Sketchbooks, which contain a record of most of his paintings]

CHRISTIANA PAYNE

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