Artist biography

English pastellist, painter, writer and astronomer. His father, also called John Russell (1711–1804), was a bookseller, printseller and amateur artist. Russell was educated at Guildford grammar school and won premiums from the Society of Artists for drawings in 1759 and 1760. He was apprenticed to Francis Cotes and set up his own practice in 1767. In 1770 he entered the Royal Academy Schools, London, winning the silver medal for figure drawing. He exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1768 and annually at the Royal Academy from 1769 to 1806. He was elected ARA in 1772 and RA in 1788, when he became Crayon Painter to King George III and to George, Prince of Wales. He painted some rather stilted portraits in oil, but most of his work—hundreds of portraits and large numbers of fancy pictures of children with animals—is in pastel. His pastel portraits include Dr Robert Willis (c. 1790; Hove, Mus. & A.G.). He had a large and fashionable clientele.

In his excellent and detailed Elements of Painting with Crayons, Russell purported to explain the technique of his master, Francis Cotes, but his own work is far more effective with its brilliant use of reds, blues and yellows laid in on blue paper. Russell achieved a distinctive blurred effect by smudging the outlines with the finger and crayon, a technique he combined with striking finishing details in black. Russell was also an astronomer and produced oil and watercolour studies of the moon.

G. C. Williamson: John Russell R.A. (London, 1894) [based on Russell's diaries in London, V&A]


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