John Russell, photograph album of paintings

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 1082 JRUSS
  • Former Reference
      GB 1082 MS 183
  • Dates of Creation
      1894 - c. early 20th century
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      1 volume

Scope and Content

The album consists of black and white photographs of portraits by John Russell with pencil annotations with name of sitter or title of painting for some of the images, additionally some images have a number next to them suggesting that an index may have once existed. One of the images depicts NPG 651, Richard Brinsley Sheridan. The pages of images are interspersed with blank pages in some sections of the volume. The front page of the volume contains a cutting of a review of a publication 'John Russell R.A.' by George C. Williamson from 'The Academy' issue number 1181, December 22 1894. It is unknown who compiled the album or when it was compiled, the age of the photographs suggests that it was early 20th century.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Russell (1745-1806) was born in Guildford, the son of John Russell (1711-1804), book and print seller, five times mayor of Guildford and an artist, and his wife Ann Parvish (1719-1775). Russell was educated at the local grammar school before winning premiums at the Society of Arts in 1759 and 1760. He was then apprenticed to the painter Francis Coates, who became his friend and mentor.

In 1764 Russell's religious beliefs became increasingly evangelical. In 1767 whilst painting Lord Montagu's portrait at Cowdray House he annoyed the household with his intrusive fanaticism and also aroused such levels of ill feeling among the Anglicans and Roman Catholics of the neighbourhood that on his return journey he was refused accommodation at all the inns in Midhurst.

He settled in London in 1768, first in Portland Street, where he painted the portrait of the forger Dr William Dodd (NPG 251) in 1769. In 1770 he married one of his religious converts Hannah Faden (1745-1816), moving with her to firstly Cavendish Square and then Newman Street – they had 12 children and as time progressed their religious fervour slowly declined.

Around the same time as his marriage Russell moved away from oils to pastels. His portraits were exhibited at the Incorporated Society of Artists and then in 1769 at the first exhibition of the Royal Academy, where he would exhibit annually until his death in 1806. In 1770 he won the Royal Academy gold medal for his large figure Aquarius, he also painted William Wilberforce (NPG 759) for the first time.

Over the course of his career Russell painted hundreds of portraits, several of which were exhibited at the Royal Academy. He also painted other Methodist followers including Charles Wesley and the Countess of Huntingdon. From 1781 he experimented in painting miniatures using either watercolours or gouache on ivory.

He was elected a Royal Academician in 1788 and the following year he became painter to the king and the Prince of Wales. In 1796 he painted the Princess of Wales with the infant Princess Charlotte. Russell enjoyed relative affluence, in part because of his prolific output and also by royal patronage. He charged the same high prices as Sir Joshua Reynolds but never became a fashionable artist. Most of his sitters were connected with the Royal court, the pulpit or the stage where despite his religious beliefs he had many friends.

In 1772 he published 'Elements of Painting with Crayons', it was revised and enlarged in 1777 and was popular throughout the 19th century. Russell was also a keen astronomer from a young age and he painted the portraits of astronomers Sir William Herschel and Nevil Maskelyne amongst others. Russell's interest would see him create lunar studies which produced the largest and most accurate picture of the moon to date.

Russell's later years were marked by ill health, becoming death after an attack of cholera in 1803 but he still managed to produce his largest pastel picture 'Lady Johnstone and her Family and a Greyhound'. He died of typhus in in Hull on 20 April 1806 and was buried in Holy Trinity, Hull.

Access Information

Available to view by appointment in the Heinz Archive and Library Public Study Room, to make an appointment contact Archive Reception . Although records are generally available for public consultation, some information in them, such as personal data or information supplied to the Gallery in confidence, may be restricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Personal photography is permitted for research purposes only. Photocopying is not permitted.